Though many Hillary Clinton supporters clenched their teeth and supported Barack Obama in 2008, many remain frustrated with the president’s failure to champion women’s issues and believe he should expect a lower turnout among women for his 2012 reelection.
“After 2008 [Clinton voters] were basically told get over it, and they haven’t gotten over it,” Amy Siskind, president of the feminist advocacy group The New Agenda, told The Daily Caller.
Women, however, did vote for Obama in droves with the hope that he would tackle the issues important to them once in office. This has not been the case according to many Hillary Clinton supporters.
“Barack Obama wasn’t the women’s candidate in 2008 and he is not the women’s president midway through 2011,” Diane Mantouvalos, a 2008 Clinton supporter and co-founder of HireHeels.com (“a forum of power chics for Hillary”) noted.
According to Manatouvalos — who pointed to a March 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics report that showed 90 percent of recovery jobs had gone to men in the prior 12 months as proof — Obama has hardly been the women-friendly executive so many thought he could be.
Indeed, while women did vote for Obama by a margin of 13 percentage points over the GOP in 2008, Democrats lost the women’s vote to Republicans by 1 percentage point during the 2010 elections, based on exit polling.
“I’d say few if any Hillary supporters have warmed up to the president…I certainly hope that changes by 2012, but it’s too late for women to feel like they’re doing better than they were 3 or 4 years ago,” Mantouvalos added.
It is not just the job situation either. Feminists have also taken issue with the fact that Obama’s cabinet only has a comparable number of females to the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“In Obama’s coalition, women do not play as strong a role,” Lara Brown, assistant professor of political science at Villanova University and former President Clinton appointee, said. “From my perspective, even though Obama and his administration have talked about giving women appointments, I think that, in fact, they have been much more interested in reaching out to other constituencies that they feel are more important.”
The perceived neglect of women likely will not escape the administration’s attention as they embark on their 2012 campaign. Obama will need to decidedly win the women’s vote if he hopes to be re-elected.
“I think it’s partly why he installed Debbie Wasserman-Schulz as the head of the Democratic National Committee, to mollify women, to be serious about making women very visible in his administration and in his reelection campaign,” said Kellyanne Conway, CEO of the polling company, inc./WomanTrend, in reference to the relatively few number of women surrounding the president.
However, Sam Bennett, president and CEO of the Women’s Campaign Forum and a former Republican, explained that no matter how frustrated Clinton supporters might be with Obama, Republican policies and attacks on choice will make the 2012 election a no-brainer for most women. They will just vote against the Republicans, not necessarily for Obama, she said.
“This election cycle, more than any other, women have a very clear choice,” she told TheDC. “Even if they do not fully embrace Obama yet, which I completely understand, because Hillary represented so many women — a whole nation of life’s work. But the choice is clear.”
Pamela Hayes, an attorney who served on Clinton’s national finance committee for both Clinton’s senate and presidential runs, said that while she would like to have seen Obama do more, the only choice for her and other Clinton supporters should be the Democrat, Obama.
“Most Hillary voters are really loyal Democrats. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t support the president. He’s done really good things, I would like to see him do more, however,” she said, noting that primarily she would have liked him to have codified equal pay legislation.
Conway said that some of the Obama’s decisions, as of late, are a ploy to woo female voters, but that it is likely too little too late.
“His administration tried to win women, has tried to court and attract women by talking about reproductive rights and environmental consciousness and making history and hope and change,” said Conway. “Women are pretty savvy customers, and they’re looking for specific solutions, tangibles, options. To many women, Obama is a great example of what everybody’s grandmother warns them about. You know, all talk and no actions. ”
As Karen Mulhauser, fomer National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) executive director and a 2008 Obama advisor, told TheDC, Democrats are focused on upping the intensity in the wake of the unenthusiastic results from 2010.
“The Democratic Party is hoping that — after seeing the results of 2010 — people are just not going to be as complacent and stay home, when they have the chance to vote,” she said.
Anecdotally, however, Obama is having a difficult time garnering support from female donors.
“The administration is now, out of nowhere, from nowhere, trying to do a reach out to the Clinton women effort,” said Caren Z. Turner, a Democratic fundraiser, Clinton supporter and CEO of the lobbying firm Turner Government & Public Affairs.
“It’s been dead silence for over two years, almost three years,” Turner said. “And suddenly we’re seeing significant people from the administration reach out and I would say that the administration officials that have met with us have been, I would say polite, but chilly.”
Former Clinton fundraiser Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild added that many significant Democratic donors will not be giving to Obama this cycle.
“I believe Obama is going to have a lot of difficulty with a lot of Clinton supporters,” Rothschild said. “[They] are going say to themselves ‘fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me’ and will not join on as long as the Republicans or a third option is a good option.”
Turner pointed out, that while women have made many demands on Obama, the few victories for women the administration can point to, such as the Lily Ledbetter Paycheck Fairness Act and the White House Council on Women and Girls, are hardly a fraction of what many would have liked to see.
“[The report “Women in America”] it’s the only thing [the White House Council on Women and Girls] have done and it’s an embarrassment to the administration and yet they clearly point to this as an accomplishment,” Turner said. “I think the former Clinton women are very sophisticated, this is not their first rodeo, they see through this nonsense and the lights and mirrors. And this is lights and mirrors. For these very high-ranking officials to point to this study as an accomplishment is a huge embarrassment.”
While the report was not especially groundbreaking, many women were pleased to see it, as there had been no report like it for decades.
“So that does represent a commitment, a focus, out of the White House that has not been there in 30 years,” Bennett noted.
Like Conway, Turner believes that words and symbolism are one thing, but to get women to take notice, Obama actually needs to present tangible results.
“I think he could have done a lot more,” Turner said. “I just think this whole White House Council on Women and Girls is just symbolic of the higher problem that he’s going to have with women. We’re asking, ‘show us what you’ve done’ and we get a very nice dissertation about Joplin, Missouri. Okay, that’s interesting, but what have [you] to done to help women and girls in this country?”
Rothschild told TheDC that Obama will likely not win the Clinton vote as easily as he did in 2008, now that they have seen how he governs.
“He’ll do what he did last time, he’ll take the Hillary vote for granted,” she said. “I understand why people went with him in 2008. It was ‘hope’ over experience. Well now we actually have seen the experience.”
While Clinton supporters remain frustrated that their candidate got the shaft in 2008, Conway noted that now Clinton is even more popular than Obama, a Pyrrhic victory, to be sure, but a victory nonetheless.
“It’s amazing – I would say that many of these women feel exonerated, vindicated, and, even if under-appreciated, because Hillary Clinton is 20 points more popular than she was on Election Day 2008, and more popular than her boss, Barack Obama,” Conway said. “I think women will look at that as sweet justice.”