Eight years after conceding she was unable to “shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling,” Hillary Clinton is embracing her place in history as she finally crashes through as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Throughout her surprisingly rocky primary campaign, Clinton has been cautious about emphasizing her trailblazer status. But as she campaigned in California in recent days, the former secretary of state signaled she was ready to acknowledge her distinction as the first woman to top the presidential ticket of a major U.S. political party.
The Associated Press determined Monday that Clinton had reached the 2,383 delegates needed to become the presumptive Democratic nominee.
During a rally in Los Angeles Monday night, Clinton said she was on the brink of a “historic, unprecedented moment,” while acknowledging there was still work to be done in six states voting Tuesday.
It’s a remarkable moment for a candidate who’s spent much of her life at the center of a heated national conversation about the role of women. From stridently defending her own career, famously saying in 1992 that she never “stayed home and baked cookies,” to a 2008 presidential bid that shied away from mentioning her gender, Clinton has addressed the issue of her historic role from nearly every angle.
Now she’s trying something new: owning it.
“Starting next Tuesday we’re on our way to breaking the highest and hardest glass ceiling,” Clinton said last week in Culver City, echoing the speech she made in 2008 when she conceded the Democratic primary to Barack Obama.
Her supporters are already there: At events in California, they chanted “deal me in” when she joked about “playing the woman card.”
“Having a woman president will make a great statement, a historic statement about what kind of country we are, about what we stand for,” Clinton told reporters at a community center in Compton Monday. “It’s really emotional and I am someone who has been very touched and really encouraged by this extraordinary conviction people have.”
Campaign aides say Clinton is mindful of the significance, especially when she thinks about her mother, Dorothy Rodham, who was born before women had the right to vote. Rodham, who died in 2011, was in attendance at Clinton’s concession speech in 2008 and Clinton has made her life story a focal point of the campaign.
That’s a reversal from her first presidential bid. In 2008, Clinton believed she needed to project an image of strength to persuade voters she could be the first woman to serve as commander in chief — a “kind of tough single parent” rather than a “first mama,” as Mark Penn, her chief strategist at the time, described it.
Aides and allies believe that her previous presidential run helped normalize the idea of a woman in the country’s highest position.
This year, Clinton wants to focus on how her groundbreaking achievement is symbolic of the kind of change she wants to effect as president, aides say. “Breaking down barriers” has been one of her campaign slogans, as she pledges to improve access to education, jobs and opportunity.
After a challenging primary against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign, Clinton feels confident about the contrast this message offers with likely Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has made disparaging comments about women. In recent days, Clinton has drawn wild applause for a newly aggressive line of attack against Trump.
Her campaign thinks she can use Trump’s incendiary rhetoric against him, particularly to win over white, suburban women — a demographic Obama lost.
But that remains to be seen. Trump has shown himself willing to go after her with gender-related attacks, accusing her of “shouting” and of playing the “woman’s card” to get ahead. He has also sniped at her marriage to Bill Clinton as well as his personal indiscretions.
The unpredictability concerns some of Clinton’s strongest allies.
“There’s still a huge difference between the way in which female and males either running for or being in executive positions are treated,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Because we have not had a female executive as president of the United States, we have no idea how all of this is going to play out.”
When she started her campaign, Clinton frequently joked about being the “youngest woman president.” But in recent months she had largely stopped mentioning her place in history because her campaign found it was not effective with voters. That’s started to change.
All along, Clinton has heavily emphasized issues of importance to women, like paid family leave, equal pay and affordable child care. In California, she was joined by 17 female leaders and celebrities, including Sally Field, Mary Steenburgen and Debra Messing.
Field drew huge applause as she asked why Clinton gets accused of not being likable.
“What is this, a high school popularity contest? She’s not running to be anybody’s friend. She’s running to be the president of the United States,” Field said.