Previously Published in USA TODAY
Marilyn Salenger February 10, 2016
If the New Hampshire Primary isn’t Hillary Clinton’s mega ‘aha’ moment when itcomes to her support among women voters, she’s going to face a far greater uphill challenge going forward. Her campaign has been playing off-key to those that she needs the most and those who should be her strongest supporters.
Bernie Sanders won women in New Hampshire by 53% to 46%, and racked up a striking 82% of Democratic women ages 18-29. Clinton’s strongest numbers came from women over 65. Young women vs. older women creates a dynamic and challenging political split. It’s been a surprising twist to some this year, but one that should have been expected.
Many young women I’ve spoken with believe that all of the doors of opportunity are open for them and are very surprised when they hear me say that too many remain closed. Millennial women unfortunately know too little about how hard so many of us worked to break the ground they now walk on. My perspective, and Clinton's, is history to them. They’re more interested in today. Maybe we were that way when we were their age. We just didn’t have political clout.
So how does Clinton create a world that feels shared sisterhood again, or Sisterhood2.0, in an effort to try and salvage women’s support?
She can start by building bridges of commonality and understanding to young women, and making sure those who support and speak for her stop criticizing them if they choose another candidate. Clinton, of all people, should be the candidate of inclusiveness for women of all ages. That means not only respecting women and their choices, it requires adding more young women to her inner and outer circles.
As a young television news correspondent breaking my own ground, I covered the early days of the women’s movement because I thought it was important and none of the men wanted the assignment. I was living a large part of what the movement was talking about and felt the connection. It’s the kind of personal connection that has been missing in the Clinton campaign. You need to feel it to vote it.
Relatability has become the new likability factor in this political season, and it will play a major role in electing our next president. We want to see strength in our candidates, but when it comes to Clinton we also want to see vulnerability. A double standard? Absolutely, but reality as well. She showed a glimpse of her ability to reach us more personally during the recent televised New Hampshire Town Hall admitting, “This is hard for me. ... I never thought I'd be standing on a stage here asking people to vote for me for president. I always wanted to be of service.” That was Clinton talking with us, not to us, and it was a buy in key moment for many that night. She became relatable, more human. While it may not be instinctive for her, she has to show that side of herself consistently. Especially to young people.
Millennial women and men are feeling the headiness of being recognized as a new political force. They want to be wooed as an important voter demographic and to know that the candidates feel their pain. Sanders’ ability to do just that has been his strength. Clinton’s inability to touch their hearts and souls has been her weakness. To change this pattern going forward, Clinton has to step out of what has been her intellectual comfort zone of knowledge and experience and into a zone that's closer to young people and the issues they care about. That may help bring them to her, even if they don't understand why women like myself feel it is so important to elect the first woman president of the United States in 2016.
Marilyn Salenger, an Emmy-Award-winning news correspondent and anchorwoman, was the first woman hired by CBS for its newsroom in Cincinnati and the first woman to solo anchor a newscast in Boston, Mass. She also co-produced and anchored the first all-women’s television news program in the United States and was the first woman to hold the position of press secretary for a national presidential campaign (Alan Cranston's). Follow her on Twitter @MarilynSalenger.