With a woman among the Democrats running for president, how women will vote in this election has risen to be a dominant issue. When Hillary Clinton came to Iowa in January to announce her candidacy, she focused on the gender issue.
"Now I know there are people who either say or wonder would we every elect a woman president and I don’t think we’ll know ’til we try and I’m going to try and with your help, I think we can do it," she said.
By Labor Day weekend, Clinton began putting a passage in some of her campaign speeches about the very old women she meets as well as the young girls, who are excited by the symbolism of her candidacy. Yet Clinton recently remarked that Iowa and Mississippi are the only two states which have not elected a woman to congress or as governor.
Democrat Elaine Baxter of Burlington is an ex-state legislator and former Iowa Secretary of State who ran for congress in 1992 and ’94, losing to Jim Lightfoot both times. Baxter, who’s backing Clinton, says Clinton was just stating a fact. "I think what it means is that maybe the bar might be set a little higher here for a women candidate for president because we haven’t supported women running for top jobs," Baxter says.
Baxter contends the so-called "glass ceiling" is ready to be broken by a female candidate partly because more women are in leadership roles in key institutions around the state like Sally Mason, who is the second woman to be the University of Iowa’s president. "I think that the time is right for a woman to get the support that maybe was lacking in the past," Baxter says.
Norwalk school teacher Ann Swenson is among those considering caucusing for Clinton, but Swenson worries the former first lady sometimes sends conflicting messages. "I’m so excited about her because she’s a woman and I think that’s just amazing and I think our country is ready for that," Swenson says. "…but I need consistency."
While Swenson and others worry about Hillary Clinton’s conduct on the campaign trail and in the debates, it is often the legacy of Bill Clinton that’s the main issue for other women. Kim Tu of West Des Moines is supporting Barack Obama. "I wasn’t a huge fan of Bill Clinton, actually and I just feel much…stronger about (Obama’s) values," she said moments before hearing Obama speak at an event in late October.
Over the course of the past 11 months each of the Democratic presidential candidates has enlisted the support of women who have won elected office in Iowa. Obama has the backing of five of the 19 women Democrats serving in the state legislature. Joe Biden’s been endorsed by four. Clinton has been endorsed by six of the Democratic women legislators. But two of Clinton’s key backers here are former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack and former Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell, who ran for governor in 1994.
John Edwards has the backing of Roxanne Conlin, the first woman nominated by Iowa Democrats to run for governor. That was back in 1982. Conlin seemed to be speaking about the issue of Hillary Clinton’s "electability" when Conlin made these comments last week at a campaign rally. "I’m supporting him because he I think he is the person who…is most likely to be elected and we Democrats must win this election," Conlin said, as the crowd applauded. "We have to win this election."
The other factor weighing on Iowa Democrats’ minds is the war in Iraq. Kathy Wagemann of Clive sees Joe Biden as the candidate with the credentials to deal with the many crises around the world. "Truthfully, I haven’t totally decided," Wagemann said after hearing Biden speak in mid-November. "But I’ve been watching (Biden) for years and he’s been very impressive, very knowledgeable on foreign affairs which I really think we need in a president right now."
Baxter, the Clinton backer from Burlington who twice ran for congress, acknowledges Clinton cannot expect Iowa women to support her just because she’s a woman. "My experience and I think the experience of other women who run for office is it would be insulting to women to say, ‘Vote for me because I’m a woman,’" Baxter says. "Women want to support the best candidate, just like men do."
Slightly more women than men usually vote in Iowa, but Clinton’s fate may be decided by how many men choose to suppport her. Edward Loggins of Waterloo attended the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner and sat in Clinton’s section of supporters. Loggins has been looking for a candidate who could repair relations with other countries. "If I was someone who was talking to her from another country immediately I would feel, ‘Here’s someone who makes me feel comfortable. Here’s someone who I can actually talk to, that I would feel that’s going to shoot straight — not shoot backwards, forwards, here or there,’" Loggins said.
Click on the audio link below to listen to this entire report.