Clinton’s Real 'Woman Card': Money

AP Photo/John Locher

Supporters cheer before a rally with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Saturday, June 4, 2016, in Fresno, California. 

Notwithstanding Donald Trump’s assertion that playing “the woman card” will somehow benefit Hillary Clinton, gender politics are sure to undercut Clinton’s historic presidential bid on more than one front. Research shows that women are held to a higher standard than men when it comes to both honesty and likeability—two areas of particular weakness for Clinton.

But in one area that’s traditionally hurt women seeking public office—political fundraising—Clinton has turned the tables. Clinton is one of her party’s most successful rainmakers, enjoying access to a business and finance-sector donor class long dominated by men. She has also raised more than half her money—$55 million so far—from women, the first presidential candidate ever with a campaign account powered principally by female contributors.

Clinton’s female donor pool is expanding at a time when women political contributors in both parties have started to open their checkbooks. Forty-three percent of donations to federal candidates in this election have come from women, up from 30 percent in 2012. Clinton’s political network is heavy on seasoned female operatives raising cash both for her campaign and for the super PACs that back her. Campaign organizers have made a special effort to reach out to female donors, particularly women of color and younger women.

The leading Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA Action, is headed by Anne Caprara, former vice president of campaigns at EMILY’s List, the powerhouse Democratic women’s PAC. One of Clinton’s top bundlers is Heather Podesta, head of the lobbying shop Heather Podesta + Partners, who is emerging as one of the Democratic Party’s highest-dollar contributors of either gender.

Clinton’s success as a fundraiser cuts both ways, of course. Neither Donald Trump nor Bernie Sanders can boast any lobbyist bundlers at all so far. (Both candidates would argue that the absence of bundlers is a selling point.) Trump and Sanders have also taken Clinton to task for her close Wall Street ties, a continuing liability in her campaign. Sanders has even sought to undercut Clinton’s strength with women donors by arguing that his female backers are actually more numerous. Funded mostly by small donors, Sanders has a larger number of contributors overall.

Nevertheless, Clinton’s $55 million haul from female contributors of $200 or more exceeds by almost five times the $14.6 million that women in that same donor category have given to Sanders, who has collected 37.8 percent of his itemized contributions from women. (Only itemized contributions of $200 or more may be sorted by gender.) Trump is faring worst of all with women, reporting a mere $431,441 from female donors—21.3 percent of his campaign receipts. To be sure, Trump has raised far less than Clinton overall, having largely self-funded his primary. Clinton’s campaign receipts exceed $204 million, compared with just under $58 million collected by Trump.

Clinton is not universally loved by women. Many young women who embrace the feminist label have flocked to Sanders, who beat Clinton among women by 11 points in the New Hampshire primary. Clinton’s challenges with young female voters seem to center on perceptions of Clinton as an insider, part of a privileged class leaving low-income workers behind. Clinton has sought to counter this with an emphasis on wage equity, particularly for working women.

But Trump’s woman problems are creating a whole new kind of gender gap. His use of such terms as “bimbos” and “dogs” to describe women, his suggestion that women who seek abortions might deserve jail time, his vendetta against Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly, his insults lobbed even at such prominent Republican women as Carly Fiorina—all these have alienated him from women in both parties. Seventy percent of all women, and 46 percent of Republican women, have an unfavorable view of Trump.

That has led to some speculation that this election may even lead to a shift in women’s voting patterns. Traditionally, women voters have ranked party as more important than gender when selecting candidates. But Trump’s high negatives with GOP women suggest a possible opening for Clinton to win crossover female Republican voters in this election.

Clinton’s biggest advantage with women remains her party, not her gender. Democrats have enjoyed anywhere from a 4-point to an 11-point advantage over Republicans among women since the early 1990s. (President Barack Obama won 55 percent of the women’s vote in 2012; GOP nominee Mitt Romney, for his part, beat Obama by 52 percent among men.) And men still dominate the political money world, for obvious reasons. They earn more; they hold more positions in public office; they make up the vast majority of the billionaires and hedge fund managers that increasingly underwrite super PACs.

But Clinton’s campaign is historic not just because she is the first woman effectively nominated to head a major party’s presidential ticket, but also because she has motivated a record number of women to give politically. Political fundraising is not looked on kindly by voters these days. But those voters who do make campaign contributions are generally more likely to volunteer, knock on doors, and actually turn out on Election Day.

When Trump sneered at Clinton for playing “the woman card,” she promptly turned it into a fundraising gimmick that pulled in more than $2 million. Clinton’s campaign now invites any donor who gives anywhere from $5 to $500 or more to “get your official woman card,” pictured as a pink card with a generic woman symbol in the style seen on restrooms. A message at the bottom reads: “Congratulations! You’re in the majority,” and concludes with Hilary’s retort at the time to Trump: “Deal me in.”

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