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Hillary dangles prospect of first female president

- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2007

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's stump speech has several applause lines, but only one provokes an emotional and gender-specific response when she reminds voters her election would make history.

I'm very excited about the possibility of becoming the first woman president, the New York Democrat says on the campaign trail.

Sometimes she changes it up a bit, saying she is thrilled at the prospect, but she always adds: I am not running because I'm a woman. I'm running because I think I'm the most qualified and experienced person to do the job that has to be done.

The audience erupts in applause, and sometimes women turn to their daughters with a smile. At the same events, little girls are seen wearing I can be president buttons, and great-grandmothers who were born before women were allowed to vote show their support for Mrs. Clinton.

The former first lady evokes both generations, reminiscing about those women in their 90s as well as parents who tell their daughters: See, honey, you can be anything you want to be.

I never thought it would happen in my lifetime, Dorothy Weisbord of Wynnewood, Penn., said this fall at a Clinton fundraiser.

Ms. Weisbord remembers New York Democratic Rep. Geraldine Ferraro's bid for the vice presidency with Walter Mondale in 1984. I didn't think much of her, and Hillary is a very different person. She's tough, and she can win, she said.

Mrs. Ferraro, who failed to win over a majority of female voters two decades ago, is a Clinton supporter.

Hillary is the candidate I've been waiting 23 years for, and I think we can all agree she was well worth the wait, Mrs. Ferraro said this summer. When a woman is in a position of power, it makes a difference for all women.

The Clinton campaign is touting a new Gallup poll ranking her the most admired woman in the world for the 12th time.

Her being a woman is very important for me, said Clinton volunteer Oma Iverson, a retired teacher from Sioux City, Iowa. She's been through the fire, we all know that, in a way none of the other candidates ever have. If not now, when? What does it take in America to get a woman in there?

But some women worry that Mrs. Clinton — and her husband's impeachment battle after the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal — sets the wrong example for young women.

I think it's important the president has a stable relationship and stable family, and for that reason I have reservations about Hillary Clinton, said Remy Rochford of Irvine, Calif.

Still, even some Republicans say they would support her, prompting her pollster, Mark Penn, to suggest the emotional element of her candidacy could help Mrs. Clinton capture up to 24 percent of female Republican voters in a general election.

Mrs. Clinton's Republican colleague, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, noted the historic nature of the Clinton candidacy this summer, calling it a powerful example that anything is possible and a message that reverberates through our society that it is possible.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Clinton campaign co-chairman, recently asked Iowa men to reflect on a young girl or a young woman who may be important in your life and have that young lady in your mind's eye during Mrs. Clinton's speech.

Think about being able to go to her on the day after the election and being be able to say to her ... every opportunity is now available to both men and women in this country, he said, adding: We get a chance to make history.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat and one of Mrs. Clinton's top rivals, also has historic appeal. He would be the nation's first black president if he won the White House.

Democratic activist Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, Ark., summed up her excitement about the 2008 field: As an African-American woman, either way it finally feels as if I can't lose. It's a feeling like being in the majority. When will this ever happen again?