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Hillary Clinton shattered a political glass ceiling

Despite some sexism on the campaign trail and in the media, her gender won many votes, too.

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Another episode came at a Clinton event in Salem, N.H., when a young man yelled "Iron my shirt." Third was the moment at a New Hampshire diner, when Clinton teared up over a question about the rigors of the campaign. And fourth was a response by Democratic candidate John Edwards questioning Clinton's ability to hold up as commander in chief.

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In the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton came in third, entrance polls showed 35 percent of women voters favored Obama, versus 30 percent for Clinton. Five days later in New Hampshire, which Clinton won by just 2 points, 46 percent of white women voted for her and 33 percent for Obama.

Still, Jamieson believes Clinton's campaign was hurt at other times by unequal media treatment. On Feb. 10, CBS's "60 Minutes" featured interviews with both Clinton and Obama. In the Clinton interview, Katie Couric asked soft questions – some of them inappropriately gender-specific, Jamieson says. One example: "Someone told me your nickname in school was Miss Frigidaire. Is that true?" Obama, in his interview with Scott Pelley, was asked about policy.

Examples of sexist language aimed at Clinton in the media during the campaign are legion. Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh asked: "Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes?" MSNBC host Chris Matthews had to apologize on-air for a comment he had made suggesting Clinton wouldn't be contending for the presidency if husband Bill hadn't "fooled around" with Monica Lewinsky. Another MSNBC reporter, David Shuster, was suspended temporarily after joking that the campaign was "pimping out" Clinton's daughter, Chelsea.

Bill Carrick, a Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist, says watching Clinton grapple with the gender issue reminds him of now-Sen. Dianne Feinstein's race for California governor in 1990.

"We always tried to make sure what we were telling the voters was not just a narrow definition of Dianne Feinstein, but a complete definition," he says. "She was a great leader, and a very empathetic person who worked on issues that impact average people."

In Clinton's case, he says, by the time she got to the Texas and Ohio primaries, she became a much stronger candidate, because her message focused on how she would stand up for people and solve healthcare and economic problems. But by then, she had come off an 11-contest losing streak, and Obama's lead in pledged delegates had proved insurmountable.

Clinton’s vaunted strength among women voters, particularly older women, has by now flowered into a movement that rivals in some ways the movement that coalesced early around Obama.

Clinton may not have been able to summon Obama-sized numbers of people to her rallies, but polls show a fervency to her supporters’ feeling that in some ways is stronger than Obama supporters’. Exit polls in the later Democratic primaries showed Clinton voters less willing to vote for Obama in November than vice versa.

Now that Clinton has lost the nomination, how her supporters behave will be crucial to Obama’s prospects against Republican John McCain. And thus all eyes will be on Clinton Saturday when she suspends her race and expresses her support for Obama. Going forward, the question is, how hard will she work for Obama, and will her supporters follow her lead? 

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