Once again, women are rallying to her eleventh-hour call for aid, especially of the financial sort. But, barring a miracle, the New York senator’s historic bid to become the first female president is in its final acts.
So why press forward?
First, Clinton’s passionate supporters can ensure that she leaves the presidential stage with dignity, surrounded by friends.
Just a day after the debilitating results in the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, the New York senator sought help at a fundraiser dubbed by her campaign “Generations of Women for Hillary.”
And, as has been the pattern, the 1,500 mostly women who attended came through, not just meeting the goal of generating $500,000 for her campaign but doubling it.
Even the sight of a couple of loud protesters couldn’t erase the obvious relief and excitement of the candidate, who sponsored the event along with her daughter and mother. As the last heckler was escorted out of Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel, Clinton quipped that she hoped “they paid” before they were booted.
Second, her supporters can put the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign on notice that they need to be assuaged before the November general election.
Democratic insiders for weeks had been wringing their hands over the impact of a disillusioned African-American community, a legitimate thing to worry about. But the gender gap between Clinton and Obama in critical primary states — often in the double digits — also must be dealt with if Democrats are to regain the White House.
The chief ambassador to them will remain the former first lady. Any hint that she’s mistreated or shoved could prompt a disastrous backlash.
Conversely, Clinton advisers have privately argued lately that she is taking some final laps on the campaign trail to ensure her supporters aren’t embittered by being robbed of their chance to cast their votes for the first serious female presidential contender.
After the last primary is held and the delegates counted, no one can argue that their voices and participation were arbitrarily stifled. (Except for the Florida and Michigan rule-breakers, who are topics for another day.)
Of course, that doesn’t mean the ultimate loss will be less bitter. Many women are passionate about seeing the highest political glass ceiling shattered. But there will be scant evidence that she — and they — didn’t deliver all that they could to avoid that bitter end.
And third, they can celebrate a milestone: the changing face of the Democratic Party’s donor base.
Of the more than $100 million Clinton has raised for her campaign, 49 percent has come from 43,571 women, while 51 percent was donated by 35,825 men, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
And the rise of the female Democratic donor doesn’t stop with Clinton.
In fact, Obama has attracted more of them.
As of March 31, Obama had raised $50 million, or about 42 percent of his cash, from 49,346 women.
That means, for the second straight cycle, 40 percent of the money raised by the major male candidate has come from women — a 10-percentage-point jump from 2000, according to Michael Malbin, a money and politics expert at the Campaign Finance Institute.
“When you look at John Kerry’s 2000 campaign and Obama,” Malbin said, “you are looking at a secular change, a significant change over time that is affecting a very large group of people.”
And they aren’t all small donors. For instance, Clinton’s pool of backers who have given the $4,600 maximum for both the primary and general elections counts 4,013 men and 2,942 women, the center found. That same category of giver to Obama includes 1,428 men and 864 women.
In contrast, presumed Republican presidential nomine John McCain’s fundraising from women is significantly less than that of his Democratic rivals and even lags a bit when compared with President Bush’s fundraising.
According to the center’s analysis, just under 28 percent of McCain’s cash has come from 10,687 women; about a third of the money raised by Bush came from women.
Causes for the jump in female giving vary. As more women move up the career ladder, they have more disposable income that can be applied to politics, some studies show.
The increase in female candidates in the past two decades is also contributing to the trend, as women become more accustomed to reaching into their purses to help each other’s careers.
The Clinton campaign accelerated the trend by integrating female donors and fundraisers from the outset of her campaign.
Heather Podesta, a Washington lobbyist, can recall the days when she was one of just a handful of women attending major fundraising meetings. Today, she’s one of at least 90 women inside Clinton’s most elite surrogate fundraising circle.
A so-called HillRaiser, Podesta has tapped into her own broad network to direct more than $250,000 in donations to the Clinton campaign.
EMILY’s List, an organization that solicits money for female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, has spent years building a network of female givers. And studies show that once people give, they’re more apt to give again.
EMILY’s List founder Ellen Malcolm is now one of five national chairs for the Clinton campaign and a major fundraiser.
The organization also serves as a conduit for donations. On the evening of Clinton’s Pennsylvania primary win — the night it was disclosed that she had to loan her campaign $5 million — EMILY’s List’s conduit programs lit up with a rush of donation pledges to Clinton, said its political director, Maren Hesla.
EMILY’s List is also putting its own money into Clinton’s campaign. Hesla has been organizing women-to-women phone calls and mailings in key primary states. And EMILY’s List ran a Clinton radio ad campaign in Texas.
The long work in the vineyards by such women is what makes the end of the Clinton candidacy all the more frustrating. The prize seemed so tantalizingly close. The miss means more hurdles to overcome.
Although Podesta said she was “encouraged” to learn of the bump in female giving, she still believes that raising money for presidential candidates is “definitely still a rich man’s game.”
“Women tend to be wife, mother and primary caretaker for aging parents, and they tend to hesitate before writing a $1,000 donation,” Podesta said.
Instead, women are more often likely to write a $50 or $100 check and do it several times, she said.
Many of those female givers aren’t accounted for in the center’s findings because federal law doesn’t require that donations of that size be itemized by the names of the givers.
Podesta also offers another explanation for the rise in donations and donors: This year’s overheated fundraising competition and the extended primary period is forcing candidates and their surrogates to scour the landscape for any dollar to be had.
“It’s hard to be in Washington now and find fundraising not being a part of your work and social life,” she said.