“Youngest Woman President” More Than an Applause Line

If you watched (as I did) or read about Hillary Clinton’s big “launch” speech from New York on Saturday, you probably thought this passage was pretty good:

I may not be the youngest candidate in this race. But I will be the youngest woman President in the history of the United States! And the first grandmother as well. And one additional advantage: You’re won’t see my hair turn white in the White House. I’ve been coloring it for years!

My first reaction, in fact, was that it was so good maybe she should have saved it for the convention next year. But then Greg Sargent, with some help from Celinda Lake, did a good job of explaining why this is a message HRC wants to get out early and often:

[I]t probably isn’t an accident that she noted that she’d be the first female president as a direct response to the fact that other candidates running for the White House are younger than she is.

That’s what the argument will be, either explicitly or not: Even if it’s true that Clinton comes from an older generation of politicians than some of her Republican and Democratic rivals, the election of a female president itself represents change.

Celinda Lake, a pollster who is widely respected among Democrats, tells me that focus groups she has conducted show this has the potential to be an effective rebuttal — particularly among the voter groups it appears intended for.

“The two cohorts who feel most strongly that it’s time for a woman president, and appreciate the historical nature of this, are baby boomer females and their millennial daughters,” says Lake, who has been doing research for the non-partisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation for years on how voters perceive female candidates for executive office.

“We’ve learned that the inherent idea that this would be the first woman president in and of itself communicates ‘change’ to people,” Lake says.

So drawing attention to the historic nature of her candidacy is arguably a three-fer: it appeals to an “Obama coalition” cohort of young voters; it appeals to the swing voter category of Baby Boomer women; and it also appeals to swing voters with an inchoate desire for “change” after two Obama terms. On top of that, it’s a nice defensive maneuver against any suggestion that voting for someone named Clinton is a vote for a return to the 1990s. There sure weren’t any women serving as president then.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.