During the 2008 presidential election, Hillary Clinton hardly acknowledged the historic nature of her candidacy until it was too late. Next year could be a lot different.
In her concession speech in June 2008 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Clinton spoke wistfully about having cracked, but not quite broken through, the “glass ceiling” professional women face.
"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it," Clinton said. "And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time."
To that point, Clinton had doggedly touted her credentials as a former senator and a former first lady but downplayed her standing as the first woman to have a serious shot at winning the presidency.
The strategy was deliberate. Clinton’s pollster during the campaign, Mark Penn, wrote a memo, first reported by The Atlantic, arguing for Clinton to downplay her femininity. Voters, Penn reasoned, would "not want someone who would be the first mama, especially in this kind of world.”
But as Clinton prepares to run for president again, she appears ready to reject Penn’s advice and make women’s issues, and her personal experiences with them, central to her platform.
In recent public events, Clinton has cited her “grandmother glow.” She has pushed for government expansion of child care, and she has vocally taken up the mantle of equal pay for women.
“It's time to have wage equality once and for all," Clinton said during a Silicon Valley women’s conference on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, close Clinton allies have begun to affirm publicly what Clinton’s evolving statements have come to suggest: that she will embrace a pro-women message as part of her presidential campaign platform.
“I think she clearly understands this time the significance of having a woman president of the United States,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Clinton’s former campaign chairman, told The New York Times.
Clinton’s rhetoric has shifted sharply from that of her last presidential campaign, when she counted on outsized support for women but did not want to explicitly reach out to to that segment of voters.
A few rare occasions were exceptional, such as a speech at Wellesley College, Clinton’s alma mater, in November 2007.
"In so many ways, this all-women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics,” Clinton said.
At a Democratic debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in January 2008, Clinton cited women’s pay as an issue.
“We obviously still have problems of gender equality,” Clinton said. “You know, equal pay is not yet equal.”
And, following Clinton’s bruising defeat in the Iowa caucuses, she won the New Hampshire primary by leaning heavily on women voters.
"At Clinton headquarters, it was all women all the time," a Democratic official told Mother Jones at the time.
But the Penn doctrine reigned, and Clinton rarely advertised her gender on the campaign trail, or took a tone closer to defensive than empowering.
“If people have doubts about a woman, they should look at Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel or other women who have been leaders of important countries,” Clinton said during an appearance in Ohio in March 2008, as reported by British publication The Telegraph.
A historic candidacy can turn voters out to the polls, as Obama showed in 2008 — but the sense of history must be highlighted. In March 2008, Obama delivered a well-received speech about race, whereas Clinton’s “glass ceiling” line during her concession speech was the closest she came to touting the historic nature of her candidacy.
Clinton and her team now appear to acknowledge this dynamic and are poised to seize on it.
Since she left the state department, Clinton has focused much of the work with her family’s eponymous foundation on helping women in the developing world, and has touted that record in public appearances. In March, Clinton called women’s equality "the great unfinished business of the 21st century."
She continued to echo that message this week, in her first public appearance of the year.
“In so many ways our economy seems to be operating like it’s still 1955,” Clinton said at the women’s conference. “And that’s not just a problem for working women. It’s a problem for everyone.”