By the end of July, Democrats will nominate Hillary Clinton for president.
The nomination will make history — Clinton will be the first woman in either major party to claim the prize. While women are now routinely elected to governorships, Senate seats, House seats and dozens of other offices in the United States, the top of the ticket has eluded women, until now.
Yet some are worried that younger voters are overlooking the historic nature of her candidacy, potentially hurting her campaign against Republican Donald Trump.
“I think women in my age group are unbelievably excited,” said former Kansas Democratic Chairwoman Joan Wagnon, a veteran of Kansas politics now in her 70s. Yet, “I see these (young) women who work for me, who are just passionate feminists and social activists, they’re Bernie (Sanders) supporters.”
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Less than one in three voters surveyed by CNN/ORC in March said electing a woman president was “very important,” a finding that shocked some Clinton supporters.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of our young women don’t have a good understanding of the history of the women’s movement, and the sacrifices men and women made to get us to where we are today,” said Carol Marinovich, former Kansas City, Kan., mayor and the first woman elected to the post.
Some women say those concerns are misguided.
“If it happened 20 years ago, it would be different,” Laurel Prussing, the Democratic mayor of Urbana, Ill., told The Associated Press. “But we have senators, we have governors, it’s gotten to be part of the landscape now.”
Regardless, Clinton supporters say fixing whatever enthusiasm gap exists is enormously important. Barack Obama was able to capitalize on the history of his nomination in 2008 without alienating too many white voters; now Clinton faces the challenge of accomplishing a similar task, based not on race but gender.
“Gender is the central issue of this campaign,” said Jackson Katz, author of a new book on gender and presidential campaigns, “Man Enough?”
While some voters see Clinton’s candidacy as a breakthrough, others — particularly men and older voters — see the presidency as a “masculine” job, Katz said, complicating the campaign for a candidate who already faces accusations of improper behavior.
Balancing those competing views will be hard.
“Calling attention to Hillary actually being a woman and this being a very historic moment doesn’t help her among a great deal of voters, it hurts her,” said Rebecca Richardson, president of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus.
“It’s way better for her to run a masterful race and trounce her opposition because she’s able to run the best campaign and she’s the most qualified, regardless of her gender.”
What is not in doubt is the lukewarm enthusiasm for Clinton’s first-woman-ever campaign. Writers have argued about it on the internet for months.
“The fact of her candidacy is met with the equivalent of a collective shrug,” former Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman wrote for Politico in late June.
Former ABC News correspondent Lynn Sherr: “How come I’m not feeling the tingle?”
The women say they are Clinton supporters, and they are worried that some voters will take Clinton’s breakthrough for granted.
Some Democrats think those fears are exaggerated.
“Hillary Clinton has been in public service and the public eye for a long time,” said U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a Democrat and Clinton supporter. “In spite of that … I’m continuing to see enthusiasm build as more voters recognize the historic nature of her candidacy.”
To be sure, Clinton still enjoys a wide lead among women in most public opinion polls. In a USA Today/Suffolk University poll taken in late June, Clinton led GOP opponent Trump by 12 points among likely female voters. Male voters favored Trump by 2 percentage points, 43 percent to 41 percent.
Some of that 10-point gender gap may be the result of, well, gender.
“Clinton is the first woman to win a major-party nomination,” wrote Geoffrey Skelley on Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political science website. “Given the power of identity politics, it’s not hard to imagine her winning over at least some women because of that status.”
But Clinton’s opponents say the gender gap would be wider were it not for Clinton’s long and controversial history in the public eye. Her marriage to former President Bill Clinton complicates the picture, they say, as does the scandal surrounding her emails while secretary of state.
“She’s like a bald tire,” said Charlotte O’Hara, a former Republican state lawmaker in Kansas. “She’s been around too long.”
Other trailblazing female candidates in the Kansas City area say the historic nature of Clinton’s victory suffers with younger voters because so many women have been elected to office in the last two decades, in the United States and around the world.
When Nancy Kassebaum was elected to the U.S. Senate from Kansas in 1978, it was front-page news across the nation — at the time, she was the only woman in the Senate. Today, 20 women are senators.
“It’s so easy to become blasé about progress,” said former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, the first woman to hold that job in Kansas City.
Democrats say Clinton’s biggest task will be appealing to female voters as a trailblazer while still convincing men of her toughness and experience. That job was complicated by the withering criticism last week of her private email server, which contained classified material.
And female candidates say they’re judged differently from men. “There are expectations for a woman,” said Annabeth Surbaugh, the first female Johnson County Commission chair. “There is a lot of pressure on you.”
For now, Clinton must decide how much to mention her gender in the weeks ahead. She has largely refrained from talking about it on the stump, save for the day she captured enough delegates to win the nomination.
It isn’t completely clear whether Trump will make an issue of Clinton’s gender this fall. Last spring, he tried to make it a major point of contrast.
“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote,” he told reporters. “The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card.”
Yet much of Trump’s gender-based rhetoric has cooled in recent weeks. He still criticizes Clinton, of course, but it’s less about her gender than the email controversy and her personal finances.
Some Democrats think Clinton will get a boost when Sanders endorses her. The senator from Vermont will join Clinton at a New Hampshire rally Tuesday, where he’s expected to back her candidacy.
But most agree the real test comes in November, on Election Day.
Winning the nomination is one thing. Taking the oath of office would be something else.
“This is a historic moment,” said former Kansas City Councilwoman Cathy Jolly, a Democratic platform committee delegate. “But make no mistake — women are not there yet.”