01/10/2008 10:46 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Novel Idea: Women Helping Women Win

What a difference a day makes: With New Hampshire behind us, and a different result in the books than either the polls or the pundits expected, it feels as if there's new energy in this historic democratic race. And it's no surprise that women--45% of whom backed the female candidate Tuesday night--are the driving force propelling this contest forward.

Clinton herself is saying last Saturday's debate was responsible for her win and her ability to recapture the women's vote, and I'm sure that helped. She stood up for herself on that stage and explained her positions clearly. Women (and more than a few men) likely admired her competence.

But in analyzing what brought that win about, something else came to my mind: the memory of another time when women came to her side en masse.

It was when, as first lady, Clinton became the proverbial "wronged woman." While there was (and continues to be) plenty of disagreement about whether she should have stayed with or left Bill, what many women understood implicitly was the devastation of being wronged--and because they understood, they stood with her. During that time her approval ratings soared, rising as high as 71% during the impeachment--the highest they'd ever been.

When she was down and out, the women were with her--and Tuesday night, the same was true.

In the aftermath of Iowa, the women who had been least decided about Hillary watched a tired and misty-eyed woman get emotional about her passion for her country and her desire to lead it--and I believe that in that moment they found something to relate to.

A woman seeking to serve, a woman who had just lost, and a woman who was working hard to be considered as good as the guys. She may not have been perfect, but she was a woman whose plight they could finally understand. And when the press and John Edwards came after her for it, she became a wronged woman once again.

Whenever women come together, as they did Tuesday night, to support each other in the quest for more representative leadership, it's a good thing.

But if I am right, and what made Hillary so appealing to women was the vulnerability she revealed in New Hampshire, then another question must be asked: why should a woman have to be almost counted out before she can count on other women to support her?

This is an issue that is broader than any political candidate. I know because I spent years working on behalf of women who were struggling to change their communities, but who were bringing about that change from the foot of the table: they had few resources, and little of what most people consider "power."

Convincing other women to support these women in their efforts to make a difference turned out to be a simple task compared to what I encountered when I founded The White House Project and began to seek support for putting women in power--at the head of the table.

Convincing women to come out and support other women who might be considered "powerful" (no matter the sector) turned out to be a much more difficult proposition, indeed.

So while we celebrate the fact that women joined together on Tuesday to advance women's leadership in an unprecedented way, I also believe we still have work to do. We need to figure out how we can support a woman when she's up, just as steadfastly as we do when she's down.