Why Hillary Must Strongly Embrace Being the "Woman Candidate" in 2016

Hillary Clinton is officially in the 2016 presidential race. Like Barack Obama's clinching of the Democratic nomination, if Clinton wins the primary and inches close to the White House, she, too, will be in a position of historic significance. Just four years shy of the centennial celebration of women's suffrage -- Hillary Clinton could become the first woman president.

During Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns -- as well as his two terms in office -- race has always lurked beneath the surface, a symptom of America's discomfort with talking about race and racism.

It is not likely to be as subtle with Hillary Clinton and gender.

Clinton has dealt with gender-based scrutiny starting with her time as First Lady. There is a history of analyzing her pantsuits and chronicling her hairstyles. There is already discussion about post-menopause Hillary and other health-related issues that were not concerns during the campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney, two men who ran for president in their early 70s and late 60s, respectively.

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In contrast to 2008, however, where Hillary Clinton ran as a "candidate" and not as a "woman candidate," Clinton is expected to embrace her historic position. And she may have to. After being in the national political spotlight through her husband's two terms as president, her eight years as a senator, a national campaign for president, and four years as Secretary of State, there is certainly nothing "new" about Hillary Clinton. For Democrats, 2016 will not be a year of rallying the base with a "Washington outsider" -- Clinton is an insider, one who is perceived as being defensive and calculating, which might work well in government, but it's not great for a campaign. So, that means the potential history-making nature of her campaign will be her best chance to excite voters.

She may have already discovered this power when she gave the most rousing speech of her 2008 campaign, a speech that came as she was conceding defeat to Obama:

"As we gather here today in this historic, magnificent building, the 50th woman to leave this Earth is orbiting overhead. If we can blast 50 women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House.


"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it...


"... and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.

"That has always been the history of progress in America. Think of the suffragists who gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848 and those who kept fighting until women could cast their votes."

Here is more of that great speech:

Seven years later, women's issues are at the forefront. Conversations about contraception, sexual harassmentsexual assault in the military and on college campuses, reproductive health, and equal pay have all recently been in the national spotlight.

Female participation in politics is also reflected in voting patterns. Not only have women shown up in higher percentages than men in recent elections (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014), but a record number of women were in the U.S. Senate after the 2014 election. And though it's no guarantee that one woman can appeal to all women, who make up half the country's population, it is possible that gender will hold sway -- especially since women tend to vote Democratic.

There is another advantage to running as a quote-un-quote women candidate. Giving Hillary a chance to not constantly having to fight in a field dominated by men -- men who are not called strident, but rather called tough, who do not face the extra layers of sartorial judgment -- could show us another facet of Clinton. The side of her as the doting grandmother to baby Charlotte, as the supportive mom to Chelsea, and as a strong matriarch of her family -- and maybe matriarch to the United States.

There are many ways that Clinton can embrace her historic significance over the next 18 months, and they all may prove to be paths to the White House.