Hillary Clinton effectively claimed the Democratic presidential nomination last week after her victory over Bernie Sanders in the California primary, becoming the first woman to ever earn the nomination from a major party.
“I find it both amazing and wonderful that the Democratic Party has nominated both the first African-American and woman to be president,” Sheila Nicholas, chair of the Hall County Democratic Party, said. “I look forward to Hillary actually being the first female president.”
But Clinton’s historic ascent did not seem to be met with the same level of fanfare and enthusiasm that greeted Barack Obama’s rise in 2008.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of how Americans on the left and right feel about Clinton, a household name for the last quarter century. After all, many Sanders’ supporters have their own qualms about Clinton.
Hall County Commissioner Kathy Cooper, a Republican, said having women lead in national politics is important and something she desires to see more of.
“I would have supported (Carly Fiorina) all the way to the end (of the Republican primary),” Cooper said. “I think she had a lot of the qualities I look for in a candidate.”
And Cooper said she cannot deny the historic moment of Clinton’s achievement.
“But Hillary being on the other side, it’s just hard for me to look at that with open eyes,” she added.
Just how well Clinton resonates with female voters is something that can be parsed a number of ways.
Debra Pilgrim, chair of the Hall County Republican Party, said a political candidate’s gender is meaningless to her. Merit is the only thing that matters.
“It’s about their brain and heart,” she added. “How much are they willing to give?”
Pilgrim believes Clinton’s ascendancy actually hurts the cause of women because many voters find the nominee untrustworthy.
“There’s just too much that cannot be ignored,” Pilgrim said.
Maybe it’s this particular election, with Donald Trump poised to claim the Republican nomination, which has diluted the luster of Clinton’s achievement.
“The whole thing has this surreal quality,” Gainesville City Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said of the 2016 campaign.
Or perhaps it’s because the precedent had been set elsewhere.
“Clinton being the first woman to win a major party presidential nomination is noteworthy enough to be in the first paragraph of her obituary, but it’s not remotely as significant today as it would have been 50, 40 or even 30 years ago,” Douglas Young, a political science professor at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville and self-identified conservative, said. “If we still lived in a time when American ladies lacked equal rights, it would be a big deal to have a female major party presidential nominee, but that was a very long time ago.”
Even lifelong Democrats like Bruner can see how America is playing catch up and why this might explain how Clinton’s accomplishment has been received in the general public.
“Many other countries in the world are far ahead of the United States in terms of having presidents and prime ministers that are women,” Bruner said. “(Clinton) is admitting that she’s standing on the shoulders of a lot of people who have gone before her.”
For many women, however, the fact that Clinton is the first female to be nominated for president is a moment they never thought they’d witness, and one they don’t want to slip away so quickly.
“I’m really excited as a woman,” Bruner said. “It’s really historic.”