If symbolism matters in politics, the Democratic convention (which kicks off two weeks from today) is going to be stuffed full of it. Barack Obama will accept his party's nomination on August 28, which just so happens to be the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.
But it may be another historic coincidence that ends up the most important at the end of the day. Hillary Clinton is slated to address the convention on Tuesday, August 26th – the 88th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
During the primary campaign, Clinton tried to steer away from running as a "woman" candidate, instead touting experience and policy positions. But toward the end of the race – and certainly since, there were some no-so-subtle suggestions that gender was a reason for her loss. Complaints about sexist press coverage gave way to her concession speech in which she maintained that the ultimate glass ceiling has been peppered by 18 million cracks.
If, as appears almost certain, Clinton is not going to be on the ticket, and if Obama opts not to choose another woman, then the New York senator's role at the convention and in the campaign will be key. Conventional wisdom holds that Democrats have little to worry about when it comes to the women's vote, that those voters will return to the party because of issues, whether it's health care, education, the economy or the choice issue.
But divisions remain. While most of Clinton's voters are backing Obama in the latest CBS News poll, about a quarter of them remain undecided – a larger percentage than most voting groups. Whether it's gender or other concerns keeping those voters on the fence, it has to be a concern for Democrats who are cautiously optimistic heading into the fall crunch.
And, it's why we've seen the not-so-delicate dance over the past week or so concerning Clinton's role at the convention. Plenty of questions remain about how her candidacy will be remembered in two weeks and how prominent her role will be in the following weeks. But it's a sure bet that her speech will be one of the most closely-watched in Denver and beyond.
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