“It would break my heart if, in falling short of my goal, I in any way discouraged any of you from pursuing yours,” she said. “When you stumble, keep faith. And, when you’re knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.”
The speech offered a telling glimpse into what might have happened had Clinton shed her pantsuit-clad androgyny and presented herself instead as what she was: a female trailblazer, going where no woman in this country had ever gone before.
Clinton’s passionate female supporters recognized that side of her all along — hugging her on the rope line at campaign events and whispering into her ear as though she were one of their girlfriends. They proudly wore her campaign buttons and angrily pushed back on what they viewed as sexist trash talk by television commentators and political opponents.
But to skeptics, she was “just another Clinton” — a calculating politician driven by overweening ambition, ready to steamroll her opponents if that’s what it took to get elected. They never for a second doubted she was tough enough to take the 3 a.m. phone call — they just wanted to elect someone else to do it instead.
Would things have been different had the New York senator peeled back the armor and embraced her femininity? No one will ever know. But she won the New Hampshire primary after finally showing some emotion.
Polls show Obama still has considerable work to do to win over Clinton’s anguished female backers — a matter she addressed in her speech by acknowledging how much both candidates had in common.
To do so, she linked the milestones each had hit — she as the first serious female candidate, he as the first black to be nominated by a major party for president.
“Children today will grow up taking for granted that an African American or a woman can, yes, become the president of the United States,” she said.
Watching the speech at home in Chicago, Obama clearly recognized the message Clinton was sending to women and quickly embraced it.
“I honor her today for the valiant and historic campaign she has run,” he said in a statement. “She shattered barriers on behalf of my daughters and women everywhere, who now know that there are no limits to their dreams.”
Beth Fouhy covers presidential politics for The Associated Press.
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