Can Clinton help blunt GOP sexism charges?

By Nick Juliano
Monday, September 1, 2008 10:20 EDT
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While last week’s Democratic convention went a long way to repairing the divide in the Democratic party between supporters of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee may have to rely even more intensely on his former opponent to prevent defections of female voters.Republican candidate John McCain delivered a game-changing pick last week in choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. While the one-term lawmaker has been criticized for her inexperience — which seems to invalidate similar arguments the GOP has been throwing Obama’s way for months — she also shakes up a Republican party that has been dominated by old white men.

By putting a woman on the ticket, McCain, 72, is making plain his desire to pick up disaffected Clinton supporters whose only goal was to shatter the glass ceiling that so far has kept a woman out of the White House.

Democrats are hopeful that most women will see Palin as a superficial political play and stick with the party that continues to support a woman’s right to choose, equal pay and increased funding for family and social services.

To drive that message home, Democrats are indicating the possibility of a bigger role for Clinton on the campaign trail this fall, reports Patrick Healy in the New York Times.

Mrs. Clinton’s friends said she was galled that Ms. Palin might try to capitalize on a movement that Mrs. Clinton, of New York, built among women in the primaries. And Democrats used strong words on Sunday to rebut the notion: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts said that women would not be “seduced” by the Republican ticket, and Guy Cecil, the former political director of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, said it was “insulting” for Republicans to compare Ms. Palin to Mrs. Clinton.

Nevertheless, Clinton advisers said they expected that a bloc of her female supporters would give Mr. McCain a second look because of Ms. Palin, and that Mrs. Clinton was probably Mr. Obama’s best weapon in response. But asked if the Palin pick would lead to a new political marriage between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, a senior Clinton adviser, Ann Lewis, said: “Not a political marriage. She is not on the ticket. Senator Obama chose Joe Biden as his running mate. Hillary will do what she can to help.

A larger Clinton role on the campaign trail could also help the Democrats brunt charges of sexism Republicans seem ready to launch.

“The other side will have to be particularly careful,” soon-to-be-former First Lady Laura Bush said in an interview on Fox News from St. Paul, regarding sexism aimed at Palin, “because that’s something we all looked at.”

Similar concerns about misogyny among the nation’s news media haunted Clinton’s primary campaign, with her advisers becoming increasingly convinced that she was unable to get a fair shake from a press corps hostile to a woman’s interests. Now it will be up to Clinton to show that criticisms of Palin are not meant as an affront to all women.

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