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Women in Charge: Lessons We Learned from Hillary's Campaign.

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Last Saturday, Sen. Hillary Clinton announced the suspension of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and her intention to endorse her former rival, Sen. Barack Obama. The campaign, a milestone for Sen. Clinton, has since provided overwhelming fodder for analysis of what went wrong, the impact of the campaign on the general elections this fall, and the evolving role of women in politics.

In a tone significantly different from the one frequently heard during the past sixteen months, Sen. Clinton declared on Saturday, "I entered this race because I have an old-fashioned conviction that public service is about helping people solve their problems and live their dreams. ... The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help Barack Obama the next President of the United States. ... I endorse him and throw my full support behind him. And I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me. ... I have seen his strength and determination, his grace and his grit."

Speculation abounds as to the demise of Hillary's campaign. This past Monday, I attended a panel discussion Women in Charge: The Evolving Role of Women in Politics. Hosted by Milano The New School, the panel included Ellen Malcolm, Dee Dee Myers, and Cecile Richards. Andrea Bernstein served as moderator. According to Dee Dee Myers, the reason Hillary lost is complicated, particularly when you consider the evolution of the campaign. In Iowa and New Hampshire, the focus of the campaign was all about the war. By the time the primary cycle hit Pennsylvania, the focus of the campaign was all about the economy. Hillary performed best when she was in her "Momma Bear" phase, fighting for her cubs, about concerns such as the mortgage crisis, the working class and high gas prices.

When the floor was opened up for questions, a member of the audience inquired about the breakdown by gender of senior advisors in Sen. Clinton's campaign. Dee Dee Myers was quick to point out it was a very high percentage female. But moderator Andrea Bernstein noted one significant distinction -- many of the "public voices" for Hillary were men.

At the same time, panelists urge the audience not to lose sight of the accomplishments. Ellen Malcolm opined that Hillary showed women she is strong enough and has what it takes to play in the big league. It was Hillary who pointed out that she is the first woman in history to win a presidential primary.

But the end of Hillary's campaign does not spell the end of participation by women voters. Ellen Malcolm, founder of EMILY's List, pointed out that women will have a significant role in turning the country around and EMILY's List will play a key role in connecting with women voters. Abortion remains a key issue of concern to women voters, and was hardly addressed during the campaign. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, firmly believes that abortion will be a major factor in the general election, since women voters have no idea where John McCain stands on health issues. Sen. McCain has a 0% voting record with Planned Parenthood. Half of his women voters are pro-choice and when they learn of his track record, they'll leave in droves. According to Richards, "the difference between McCain and Obama is so big we're going to run a Mack truck through it."

So as Sen. Obama goes through the vetting process for candidates for vice president, all eyes are on the short list and the candidates with whom he meets. But Dee Dee Myers is not hedging her bets on Sen. Clinton, since she thinks there is a certain chemistry that needs to exist between President and Vice President. When Sen. Obama goes through the process, Myers thinks he'll end up some place other than Hil.