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Diverse Candidates Aim to Transcend Race, Gender

February 12, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Kicking off his campaign in Springfield, Illinois, this weekend, Barack Obama did not hesitate to compare himself to another relatively inexperienced Illinois state lawmaker who later laid claim to the White House.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: In the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a house divided to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America!

GWEN IFILL: On a clear and frigid day, Obama’s carefully choreographed announcement unfolded as planned: picture perfect. But what happens next is anybody’s guess.

Although he came to Springfield this weekend to emphasize generational change, it’s also clear that Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, and Bill Richardson, and even Mitt Romney, are going to have spend a lot of this campaign talking about race, and gender, and ethnicity, and even religion.

A 'different' campaign

GWEN IFILL: There are already a number of signs that this campaign could be very different.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), New Mexico: I'm running for president...

GWEN IFILL: When New Mexico's Democratic Governor Richardson, who is Latino, announced his candidacy for president, one New York tabloid said he was throwing his "sombrero into the ring." And when another candidate, Democrat Joe Biden, attempted to praise Obama by describing him as "clean" and "articulate," African-Americans questioned why a Harvard Law School graduate should not be assumed to be articulate.

For Republican Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and a Mormon, the problem is polling that shows nearly 40 percent of Americans say they would never vote for a Mormon. Obama said this weekend his race is a "novelty" that will soon fade in voters' minds.

The issue of gender

Linda DiVall
Republican Pollster
I think, with a female candidate, there's a whole different filter that people go through. And it just -- it won't be dismissed. Hillary is going to have the same problem as Elizabeth Dole did.

GWEN IFILL: Campaigning this weekend in New Hampshire, Clinton took the gender issue head on.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: Now, there are people who I know think, and maybe even say, to themselves or others that it might be pretty hard to elect a woman president. You don't know anybody who says that, do you? Well, you know, my answer to that is: We'll never know until we try. And it is about the person.

GWEN IFILL: Other women, including Shirley Chisholm in 1972, and Elizabeth Dole in 2000, have run for president. And other African-Americans, including Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have run, as well.

Republican Linda DiVall, who worked for Elizabeth Dole's short-lived presidential campaign in 2000, said breaking through political glass ceilings remains a challenge.

LINDA DIVALL, Republican Pollster: I think, with a female candidate, there's a whole different filter that people go through. And it just -- it won't be dismissed. Hillary is going to have the same problem as Elizabeth Dole did.

What are you wearing? Are you hitting your marks on the stage? How are your mannerisms? Are you too standoffish? Are you warm enough? Are you tough enough?

They're perceived to be more open; they're perceived to do more for people. On the other hand, they're not perceived to be able to be as strong in international affairs. And I think that is probably the most significant problem that Hillary Clinton has to overcome in this election.

RALLY ATTENDEE: I would like to know why you won't work to bring the troops home as soon as possible?

GWEN IFILL: Indeed, New Hampshire voters questioned Sen. Clinton repeatedly this weekend on why she won't flatly renounce her 2002 vote supporting the Iraq war.

A new kind of language

Donna Brazile
Democratic Strategist
There's a different language that must be spoken, a language that now speaks to the fact that women and minorities can compete for the top prize in the United States of America.

GWEN IFILL: Democrat Donna Brazile, who worked for Jesse Jackson in 1984 and ran Al Gore's campaign in 2000, said all candidates are walking a new rhetorical tightrope.

DONNA BRAZILE, Democratic Strategist: There's a different language that must be spoken, a language that now speaks to the fact that women and minorities can compete for the top prize in the United States of America.

It's a language that says, you know, we're all together, that we understand how to talk about our problems and our issues without referring to gender or using metaphors that may be conjure up racial, you know, slogans of the past or racial signs of the past.

So I think that this calls for a new maturity on the part of the candidates, as well as their opponents.

GWEN IFILL: We tested that notion in central Illinois this weekend. Carla Campbell-Jackson attended the Obama rally in Springfield.

Does race worry you in this case?

CARLA CAMPBELL-JACKSON, Obama Rally Attendee: I'm hoping that the year 2008 we're ready to move forward. I think realistically there may be some who are still a little apprehensive. But hopefully we're able to move forward and do what matters, regardless of race.

Voters speak out

Everett Craven
Obama Rally Attendee
I think we're pretty much open to anybody. I think we'll listen to them, to their ideas, once, you know, it doesn't really matter who the vehicle is.

GWEN IFILL: This group of students drove two hours from Western Illinois University in Macomb to see Obama.

I'm curious whether -- and I'm not going to finish the sentence, I'm just going to ask you this -- is America ready?

EVERETT CRAVEN, Obama Rally Attendee: Is America ready? Absolutely. I think, you know, I think we're pretty much open to anybody. I think we'll listen to them, to their ideas, once, you know, it doesn't really matter who the vehicle is.

GWEN IFILL: Is America ready for a woman?

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: Not Hillary. Not Hillary. I liked Bill Clinton, but I do not like Hillary.

GWEN IFILL: Why?

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: She just seems fake. She's very fake. So it's -- I don't know. I don't trust her.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think there's a double standard, though, when it comes to a woman?

CHELSEA MACDOUGALL: I definitely do. I definitely do. Like we were talking about with, you know, trusting Bill Clinton more than Hillary. He lied. He lied blatantly to the American people. But he's more trustworthy than Hillary? It just seems odd, you know?

GWEN IFILL: Across the dining room at D'Arcy's Pint, Republicans Ed and Mike Huesing said they are not ready for a President Clinton or Obama.

ED HUESING, Republican: I don't think Barack Obama has done anything. He's spent all his time in Africa, checking out his roots, and writing books, and doing speeches, and doing everything but representing the people of Illinois.

GWEN IFILL: Hillary Clinton, not...

ED HUESING: I don't think Hillary's electable. People think she's smart. They think she's, you know, she's very articulate. That's something, but I don't think she's electable.

GWEN IFILL: As for the history-making potential of electing a black or a female president?

MIKE HUESING, Republican: I really don't think that 90 percent of Americans really care what color anybody is, but I just think that people need to go by their standards that, you know, they had back in the '50s and the '60s and try to use those. Those were simpler times, and these days it just seems like everything's gotten so complicated.

GWEN IFILL: Such complications promise only to grow, as candidates begin what is sure to be a long electoral march, which began for Obama this weekend in Iowa.