If Hillary Clinton does not shatter the glass ceiling for women and win the White House in 2016, who will? [WATCH VIDEO]
It is a question that bubbles just under the surface in conversations with many Democratic women.
They are deeply invested in the idea of a Clinton run for the presidency. They are also painfully aware that no other female politician on the horizon is of comparable stature.
“I really can’t imagine a scenario at this moment where she doesn’t run,” Democratic strategist and commentator Zerlina Maxwell said. “I can’t think of another candidate on the Democratic side who would get as much feminist energy behind them.”
There are, to be sure, plenty of other women who are building impressive careers on the national stage, and who could become viable contenders for the White House. Among Democrats, the names of Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) are the ones most commonly mentioned.
But none has a resume that measures up against the former secretary of State, senator and first lady.
Academic observers agree that, for now, Clinton is one of a kind:
“She is in a class by herself,” said Katherine Jelllison, an Ohio University professor who specializes in the role of women in politics. “Part of it has to do with people being very familiar with her because of her 20 years on the national stage, in a way that transcends other female senators or governors. There is no one else in the same stratosphere.”
Even though Clinton has said nothing definitive about her plans, the idea that she will run is solidifying. What was once speculation is on its way to hardening into conventional wisdom.
The super-PAC that is backing her candidacy, Ready for Hillary, reported on Monday that it had raised over $1.25 million in the first six months of this year — an impressive haul for a period that ended more than 30 months before the Iowa caucuses.
The organization has also created a stir with some high-profile hires: Last month, it secured the services of Jeremy Bird, who masterminded President Obama’s field operation in the 2012 campaign, and Mitch Stewart, who coordinated the Obama effort in the battleground states.
Clinton has a hold on the popular imagination that few other politicians, of either gender, can match. In the past week, NBC announced plans to broadcast a four-hour miniseries about her life, with Diane Lane in the lead role. CNN, meanwhile, has commissioned a feature-length documentary that will receive a theatrical release.
Republicans and conservatives see the TV projects as yet more evidence of a liberal media bias in the former secretary of State’s favor. More generally, they argue that Clinton’s electoral appeal is overstated by her partisans.
They point to the Benghazi affair as something that might yet haunt whatever presidential ambitions she holds. They argue that her long service in public life has not yielded many concrete policy achievements. And they note that the high approval ratings Clinton has been enjoying of late are atypical of her career, during which she has often been a deeply divisive figure.
“Everyone has an opinion of her. If she runs, it might inject a certain energy into the campaign,” Sabrina Schaeffer, the executive director of the right-leaning Independent Women’s Forum, said with wry understatement.
Schaeffer is among those who are uneasy with what they see as a liberal fixation on identity politics. They argue that it is wrong to assume that the election of a female president would be axiomatically a good thing.
“I think it’s exciting that women are in a position to seek higher office,” Schaeffer said. “But from my perspective, I would prefer to see the election of a man with the right values over a woman whose values I don’t share. The notion of having a woman in the White House only goes so far if she is in favor of big government, government healthcare and things like that.”
Among liberals, however, a Clinton 2016 run would be freighted with obvious historic significance. In 2008, the epic struggle between her and the man who is now president was given added emotional weight because they were the most serious female and African-American candidates, respectively, to have sought the White House.
Now that President Obama has broken the racial barrier, many liberals are looking to Hillary to do the same on gender.
“There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm about her running,” said former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who serves as an advisor to Ready for Hillary. “I think a lot of people, not just women, would like to see a female president of the United States.”
“The idea of electing a woman president generates a lot of enthusiasm,” said Jess McIntosh, the communications director of EMILY’s List. “But Hillary Clinton is clearly the person driving the vast majority of it.”
McIntosh asserted that there were other women, including several senators, who would already be seen as strong candidates for the presidency if they were men. And she added that a White House run by any of them would be politically potent, in part because of how their gender would arm them for fights over the Republican agenda on social issues.
But other liberal women hew to a view that is summed up succinctly by Maxwell, who supported Obama during the 2008 campaign but says she got over any slights inflicted during that battle a long time ago.
“At this moment, it’s either Hillary or nothing,” Maxwell said.