At some point, when gearing up to run for president for a second time, Hillary Clinton decided that she was not going to run away from the reality that she could be the first female presidential nominee of a major party ticket. Judging by the reception her achievement received in Philadelphia this week, it was a wise decision.
In interviews with TPM throughout the Democratic National Convention, Clinton delegates brought up — often unprompted — the historical nature of her nomination, a milestone her campaign has also embraced.
“Tonight, we’ve reached a milestone in our nation’s March toward a more perfect union: The first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president,” Clinton said. “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. I’m happy for boys and men because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone.”
Her supporters see in her, in her struggles, and especially in the gender-driven attacks that she’s faced, a parallel of their own personal trajectories. For them, her taking one step closer to the presidency was a milestone that reverberates in their lives, and they hope, if elected, her victory would serve as an example for a new generation of women.
“She’s been fighting for women’s rights and equality for a long time. And to have that voice, to see someone — you can’t help but get behind and push them higher and higher,” Caroline Sumpter, a Clinton delegate from South Carolina, told TPM. “When she goes up, we as a people go up. And when I say ‘we,’ especially women.”
“I take great pride in the fact that every time that she stepped up to leadership and has been challenged and challenged and challenged, she stayed focused and willing to go through that process because of her commitment,” said Thelma Sias, a Wisconsin delegate.
“He is on another planet than other candidates,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told TPM. “The thought that we would elect a president who has so little regard for women, who thinks about them as objects, who speaks about them in such demeaning ways, wants to take away their rights … it is incredible that we would actually contemplate electing someone whose ideas of women are worse than they were for my mother.” (Richards’ mother is the late Ann Richards, the one-time governor of Texas.)
Once reluctant to make her gender the centerpiece of her campaign in 2008, Clinton demanded America “deal [her] in” if Trump wanted to accuse her of playing the woman’s card and make this year’s election about her experience as a woman.
In her campaign, Clinton has given special attention to paid family leave and child care, recounting her own stories about juggling young Chelsea when she was an up-and-coming lawyer and noting on the night she secured enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee that her mother was born in Chicago the very day Congress was passing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.
The Clinton campaign’s careful positioning around her gender has resonated among her supporters. Throughout the convention, the symbolism of her nomination was explicitly celebrated. Delegates waved homemade signs that said “girl power,” and the presence of attendees with daughters in tow outnumbered those with sons. Richards said she herself was standing backstage with her daughter when Clinton was declared the nominee Tuesday. The convention programming made this a focal point as well. Tuesday, when the convention’s roll call vote made Clinton the official nominee, a montage of the past 44 presidents played before a video link to Clinton literally shattered through the images of their male faces.
“She’s been preparing for this since she was a kid,” Doris Wallace, a Clinton delegate from North Carolina, said. “I have been in a lot of situations where I have been the first African American breaking the ceiling, so I can relate to her.”
For female politicians and women who work in the political sphere, her nomination took on an additional significance. As they seek to push more women to enter politics, a Clinton victory serves as a crucial recruiting tool.
“You can’t be what you can’t see. Girls will grow up to know that they can become president,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) told TPM, after speaking at a reception for EmergeAmerica, a women-in-politics empowerment group. The organization focuses on funneling female candidates into state and local politics. At their DNC event, first-time political candidates gathered to hear Brown, former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, and other female pols remark on the the importance of Clinton’s nomination.
“I know a lot of people who are younger than I take for granted that, ‘Of course we’re going to elect a woman as president one day,’” Davis, whose 2014 bid for Texas governor failed, told TPM. “But the fact of the matter is that the journey for us and has been long and hard, and it’s been particularly hard for Hillary Clinton.”
Tammy Baldwin, the first openly lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate, said she hoped that women sitting at home would feel the same sort of promise in Clinton’s nomination that she had felt watching Geraldine Ferraro.
“I said to myself in that moment, ‘I could aspire to do anything, I could be anything, and I know that so many millions of young women and young men are gonna watch this week and feel that very same thing,” Baldwin said.
Clinton supporters are quick also to highlight her resume, her experiences and her proposals, even when reflecting on what it means that she is a woman.
“We have a saying in the women’s movement: a woman’s place is in the house — the White House,” Gloria Allred — a high-profile women’s rights attorney and California Clinton delegate — told TPM, as she held a laptop and a “Girl Power” sign in her convention floor chair. “Donald Trump says, ‘Well, yes, a woman can be president, but not this woman.’ I say it’s this woman. It’s now.”