March 6, 2007 -- As soon as Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., jumped into the presidential race in January, she acknowledged the historic nature of her candidacy and has mentioned it on the campaign trail ever since.
But on Tuesday Sen. Clinton plans to place her role as the first female presidential candidate with a serious shot at winning the White House front and center in her campaign.
Recent polls show that the country appears open to electing a woman president, but as Sen. Clinton is fond of saying on the trail, "We won't know until we try."
Emily's List Supports Clinton But Will the Nation's Women Follow?
Sen. Clinton has already received an endorsement from Emily's List, the nation's largest political action committee dedicated to electing Democratic women in federal, state, and local government positions. (As a source of campaign cash, Emily's List support for Clinton should not be underestimated. Donors gave $11 million to the group's endorsed candidates in the 2006 cycle.)
It remains an open question, though, if women are willing to rally around her candidacy in significant numbers simply because she is a woman.
"We're supporting Hillary Clinton because she would be the first woman president, but I also think she would be the best president," said EMILY's List president Ellen Malcolm.
"She's got more experience on the international stage for the last 15 years and has met with foreign leaders and knows the ins and outs of foreign policy," Malcolm added. "Sen. Clinton is well suited to protect our country."
Clinton Launches Outreach Effort, Calls on Ferraro, Albright, King
When Sen. Clinton takes the stage at EMILY's List's annual fundraising luncheon -- this year to honor the first female U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her history making rise to power -- she plans to launch her campaign's "Women for Hillary" effort aimed at mobilizing women voters on behalf of her candidacy.
According to the Clinton campaign, the "Women for Hillary" effort will connect with women voters through an outreach effort on the Internet, inviting women to join the "Women Leaders Network," and local events held by Clinton supporters.
A key piece of the grassroots effort will be an online initiative called "I Can Be President," which invites women across the country to express their support for Clinton's candidacy.
Women who are identified for breaking the proverbial glass ceiling in their careers plan to be a part of the effort including the first female vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, the first female Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and tennis superstar Billie Jean King.
'Natural Constituencies' Not A Given
With potentially historic firsts in the Democratic presidential field in the Clinton, Obama, and Richardson candidacies, one test of strength for those candidates will be the measure of support they each receive among their perceived natural constituencies.
Sen. Obama made huge gains among African American Democrats in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll compared to his black support in January when far fewer people were familiar with him.
Sen. Clinton, on the other hand, has lost ground among women from January to February. It appears that the change occurred almost entirely among black women. However, Clinton still garners twice as much support among Democratic women than any of her competitors.
In the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, Clinton received the support of 40% of Democratic women compared to 22% for Sen. Obama, 14% for Al Gore, and 10% for John Edwards.
According to the New York Times, Clinton campaign advisers "estimate that 60 percent of voters in the 2008 Democratic primary will be women, and their goal is to win at least twice as many female votes as any of Mrs. Clinton's rivals."
Women Making History Celebrate Women's History
Every March, tied to Women's History Month, EMILY's List holds its annual fundraising luncheon. This year 1,500 (mostly) women are expected to gather and celebrate the historic gains they have made.
Ellen Malcolm, the group's president, noted that when Rep. Nancy Pelosi was first elected to the House, she was one of 12 Democratic women. When Nancy Pelosi was elected Speaker, she was one of 50 Democratic women serving in the House.
"I am grateful to my colleagues for their courage in electing me. In doing so, they have brought us closer to the ideal of equality that is America's heritage and hope. Their courage enabled us to make history. Now let us have the courage to make progress," Pelosi is expected to say according to released excerpts of her remarks.
As for whether or not the group's strong backing of Clinton may cause some of the other Democratic presidential hopefuls to be less than fully supportive of some of EMILY's List's female candidates, Malcolm said, "I've never thought of that. I would certainly hope not. I would certainly hope that any Democrat running for president would want to see women do well. The gender gap works in Democrats' favor."