TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton’s Decision Time

Hillary Clinton gives a speech at the 37th Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa on Sept. 14, 2014. ; Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at an election-night rally on April 3, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Hillary Clinton gives a speech at the 37th Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa on Sept. 14, 2014. ; Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at an election-night rally on April 3, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jim Young—Reuters/Corbis; Scott Olson—Getty Images

Presumptive 2016 Democratic frontrunner faces a question of timing

Hillary Clinton is widely expected to run for president again in 2016, letting political observers move on from the usual will-she-or-won’t-she to another, more nuanced parlor game: When will she announce her candidacy?

“Timing is everything in politics,” said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. A candidate as established as Clinton has “the luxury of timing,” Brazile said. “But in politics that luxury can slip away if you don’t understand how to seize the moment.”

The former Secretary of State has given some mixed messages about when she’ll decide. She said in June that she’d be “on the way” to making a decision by the end of the year, and this month she said she’d make a decision “probably after the first of the year.” Those are some pretty ambiguous tea leaves for political watchers to try to read—not to mention the fact that she can “make a decision” and still not actually announce her candidacy for months.

But a survey of top political strategists and a look back through presidential campaign history offers one clear clue: As her party’s undisputed frontrunner, Clinton is likely to wait as long as possible to pull the trigger.

“The second you announce, the dynamics change completely,” said Phil Singer, a Democratic strategist who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign. “You really fall under the microscope in a way you don’t when you’re still contemplating whether to run.”

So while Clinton announced her 2008 candidacy in January 2007—a full 22 months before the general election—most aren’t expecting a Hillary Clinton campaign bus to be rolling over snow early next year. That might not sit well with some Democrats, who increasingly want Clinton to send a clear signal soon—especially if it turns out she’s not running. “A ‘no’ has to come earlier than a ‘yes,’” one Democratic strategist told NBC News in August. “If it’s a no, I suspect she won’t let it drag on.”

But despite Democratic jitters, strategists from both parties interviewed by TIME agreed it’s in her best interest to wait. As the close attention paid to inartful comments she made about her wealth during her book tour demonstrated, her every word is being scrutinized—a dynamic that will only intensify when she’s formally a presidential candidate. Her first visit to Iowa since the 2008 campaign last weekend drew close to 200 members of the media.

“The general public’s not paying attention that early, but an important subsection of the public are,” said Steve Schmidt, a top strategist on John McCain’s 2008 campaign. “The announcement is the first of many system checks that takes place.”

In the 2012 campaign, GOP frontrunner (and eventual nominee) Mitt Romney waited until June 2011 to declare his candidacy. At that point five Republicans had already participated in their party’s first primary debate. In 1991, Bill Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, announced 13 months before the general election. In 1979, Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy just 12 months before the polls opened. In 1960, John F. Kennedy, announced his candidacy just 10 months before the November election.

Election cycles have gotten longer and campaigns more permanent over the years, with presidential candidates announcing earlier and earlier. But given Clinton’s singular place in the party today, her timing could be more like those of candidates in the more distant past. With the outside super PAC Ready for Hillary already laying the groundwork for her campaign and the Clinton name more than potent enough in Democratic politics to make up fundraising ground even with a late start, Clinton has more to lose than to gain by starting too early, strategists said. Ready for Hillary raised $4 million in 2013, and an array of Clinton allies have jumped into the fold this year, including Correct the Record, a Democratic research group aimed at pushing back against Republican critics of her record, and Priorities USA Action, the former pro-Obama super PAC now backing Clinton.

“She’s got the ability to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in a window where her competitors could raise tens of millions of dollars at best,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican strategist who worked on Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Gore formally launched his campaign in June of 1999, enjoying a similar advantage to Clinton’s now. “We had the luxury of name recognition and a lot of organization,” Brazile said.

Whatever announcement Clinton does make will of course be closely watched, not just for its timing but its substance. In 2007, Barack Obama, then a Senator from Illinois, chose the “arctic cold” of early February in Springfield, Ill., to announce his candidacy before a crowd of approximately 16,000 people.

“The Obama event was like seeing the Rolling Stones,” Singer said.

“I think Obama did a very good job in 2008,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who worked on Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. “I think in part by being able to combine the fundraising aspect of it with the announcement, sort of creating the impression that there was this huge grassroots network that was excited for his candidacy.”

Clinton chose a lower profile setting for her announcement: a video posted to her website. “After six years of George Bush, it is time to renew the promise of America,” Clinton said at the time. “I grew up in a middle-class family in the middle of America, and we believed in that promise.”

The only reasons for Clinton to announce earlier, strategists said, might be to freeze other candidates from getting into the race and to be more free to respond directly to attacks from her Republican opponents.

“I think there will be far fewer Democratic announcements if she announces,” said veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who worked on John Kerry’s 2004 campaign. “And I believe she will. I think she is running.”

Lehane predicted that other Democrats will start to throw their hats in the ring the moment the midterm elections are over: “12:01 a.m. the first Tuesday of November.”

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Calls for a Women’s ‘Movement’ Ahead of Elections

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Former Sec. of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin's annual fundraising Steak Fry, Sept. 14, 2014, in Indianola, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall—AP

“These issues have to be in the life blood of this election and any election”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday called for a women’s “movement” on economic issues ahead of the midterm elections.

“These issues have to be in the life blood of this election and any election,” the presumed 2016 Democratic front-runner said. “We need people to feel that they’re part of a movement, that it’s not just part of an election, it’s part of a movement to really empower themselves, their families and take the future over in a way that is going to give us back the country that we care so much about.”

Clinton was speaking on a panel at the liberal Washington think tank Center for American Progress.

Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who shared the stage with Clinton on Thursday, have pushed to make women’s economic issues the forefront of the party’s 2014 campaign. Democrats lost the female vote in 2010 for the first time since the Reagan era, and with it control of the House and six Senate seats. They are trying to avoid a similar Republican wave this year. “Why now? What is our strategy? Well, it’s because we want women to vote,” Pelosi told the crowd.

The issue is also near and dear to Clinton’s heart. Many of her advisors from her failed 2008 campaign say that, in retrospect, she should have emphasized the historic nature of her campaign more. Clinton lost women to Barack Obama in nearly half the primaries they fought.

As Secretary of State, Clinton focused on bolstering international support for women and girls. In her second political appearance after resigning from that office more than a year ago, Clinton kept her focus on those topics. “We talk about a glass ceiling, but these [minimum wage] women don’t even have a secure floor under them,” she said at the time.

The Democratic leaders lamented Thursday what they called Republican obstruction of the women’s economic agenda in Congress. The GOP has blocked Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage—which disproportionally affects women—to $10.10 an hour, to fund universal pre-Kindergarten and other expanded child care efforts, paid maternity and paternity leaves and paid medical leave.

Clinton noted that by stymying women’s access to the workforce, the U.S. leaves 10% of increased GDP “on the table.”

“The argument is grounded in reality, but unfortunately the reality is not the context that these decisions are being made,” Clinton said. “Unfortunately, the Congress… is living in a reality-free zone. Politicians have to listen, and if they don’t it’s at their own peril.”

TIME 2016 presidential election

Iowa’s Leftwing Anti-Hillary Voters Look to Bernie Sanders

Though neither has declared their candidacy, dueling events show Democratic divisions

(Des Moines, Iowa)It is perhaps telling that the host of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ event Sunday night in Des Moines, Dave Swinton, has just rushed back from the Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, where Hillary Clinton made an appearance the same day, flipping red meat and hinting at a run.

The 50-year-old senior pastor plans on caucusing for Clinton if she runs in 2016, and his wife, Shari, couldn’t resist the opportunity to take the whole family out to the event just 30 miles south. Swinton left most of his family behind while former President Bill Clinton was speaking so he could make it back in time to set up for the Sanders event scheduled in the basement of his Des Moines church, Grace United Methodist.

Swinton is curious to hear Sen. Sanders, an Independent, speak. A progressive group Swinton often works with has rented out his church’s basement for the event.

“Hillary seems to be the strongest candidate, and I have a lot of confidence in her leadership,” he says, taking a break from setting up chairs. “I thought her speech today hit all the right notes.”

Swinton’s political leanings show the uphill battle in store for a politician like Sanders in trying to gain traction in the 2016 Democratic primaries, should he decide to challenge the 800-pound shadow gorilla in the race, the former Secretary of State.

At the 37th annual Harkin Steak Fry—where Hillary Clinton received the tacit endorsement of Iowa’s powerful Democratic senator and Steak Fry host Tom Harkin— earlier Sunday afternoon, a crowd of more than 10,000 roared in approval when she hinted that she may just run again.

“Hi, Iowa,” Clinton yelled. “I’m baaaack!”

By contrast, Sanders’ event was a relatively low-key affair attended by more than 450 people–still a decent crowd, considering the next caucuses are more than 16 months away. Most who showed were left-leaning populists who supported John Edwards in 2008 and consider themselves solidly in the anti-Clinton camp.

“I like the issues Bernie’s hitting, his anger, because I’m angry,” says Mark Brooks, 62, an Air Force veteran who believes Clinton is too “corporate” to be a good president. “This isn’t the country I defended,” he adds.

Sanders’ message resounded with Brooks. Sanders noted, “We have more people living in poverty than any other time in the history of the United States of America,” touching on 2008-era Edwards’ populist message on poverty.

“It’s a crying shame!” a man yelled in the audience.

“It is a crying shame,” Sanders replied.

Calling for a new jobs program, investment in education and the public funding of elections, Sanders highlights that economic disparity in America has never been greater.

In his speech, Sanders rattles off figures that point to the unfairness that many of his supporters are most concerned about: that top 25 U.S. hedge fund managers made $24 billion last year, or the equivalent of the annual salaries of 450,000 public school teachers. That Walmart is now the largest employer in America while the Walton family, which owns Walmart, possesses as much wealth as the bottom 40% of all earners in America.

“It’s called indentured servitude!” another man yelled—at the top of Sanders’ speech, the politician encouraged “small-d” democratic participation, or what other candidates might consider heckling.

“Sometimes, it is,” Sanders answered gravely.

Right now, Sanders, who would have to switch parties to run for the Democratic nomination, is Clinton’s only major competition on the progressive left. But that doesn’t mean liberals aren’t hungering for some more competition. Stephen Blobaum, 51, a Des Moines salesman, also caucused for Edwards in 2008. He and his father, Reed Blobaum, 79, came to see Sanders speak and support his fire, but both are holding out hope that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will make a run.

“She’s my girlfriend,” Reed Blobaum says with a cheeky smile. “’We admire what Bernie’s doing, but she’s an accomplisher. She gets things done. And Hillary needs to get done.”

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Flips a Steak in Iowa

Hillary and Bill Clinton cook steaks with Iowa Senator Tom Harken at his annual Steak Fry in Indianola,  Iowa
Hillary and Bill Clinton cook steaks with Iowa Senator Tom Harken at his annual Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa, on Sept. 14, 2014 Brooks Kraft—Corbis for TIME

As speculation about 2016 reaches fever pitch, former Secretary of State teases crowd: "Well it is true, I am thinking about it"

Sitting under one of three huge white tents set up in a hot-air balloon field outside of Indianola, Iowa, Bethany Moriarty was digging into a plate of steak. The attraction of a “steak fry” should ostensibly be the meat, but Moriarty, 30, who has “Ready for Hillary” buttons festooned across her chest, is hopping with excitement to see former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I’m by far the most political person of my family, so I kinda dragged them here,” she says, gesturing across the table to her mother, Rosemary, 65, and her sister, Amanda, 35.

Like many other of the 7,000 Iowans who’ve gathered for Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s 37th annual Steak Fry, a Democratic fundraiser that has become known as a presidential launchpad, their main topic of conversation is Clinton’s potential candidacy in 2016. “I caucused for Barack Obama in 2008,” Bethany says. “A lot was the hype and the hope we felt behind him and I still feel it. But I feel he’s been pushed aside.”

All three came to the Steak Fry this year to see Clinton speak on her first trip back to Iowa since her 2008 caucus loss. Bethany says she’ll caucus for Clinton in 2016, if she runs. But Rosemary is dubious. “I don’t think America is ready,” she says. “There’s a lot of people who won’t vote for her because she’s a woman. Like Barack Obama, the first African American, when he got elected, but Congress wouldn’t work with him.”

Amanda, twirling her fork pensively in her potato salad, chimes in: “And if you think that, than there are 100,000 people who think it,” she says. “Well, if you say that it becomes true,” Bethany counters. “We have to believe and work to make that not true.” Her mother and sister shrug, clearly not moved to action.

Clinton’s candidacy is still a figment of Bethany’s — and most of the national media’s — imagination. But that hasn’t stopped widespread speculation that Clinton’s visit to the Harkin event represents the unofficial kickoff of her 2016 run. Her shadow campaign, “Ready for Hillary,” has parked a bus emblazoned with its logo outside the Steak Fry and volunteers are waiting five deep to sign up.

The Steak Fry has a carnival-like atmosphere. Iowans in droves wear T-shirts colored for their favorite state and local candidates. By far the most T-shirts are light blue with a simply stated, “Ready” on them — shorthand for “Ready for Hillary.” Attendees carry coolers of beer and lemonade and lay out blankets on the slightly damp ground. They sing along to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” as they wait for the show to begin.

As is his prerogative on his big day, Harkin is keeping his own schedule. He is retiring and this will be his final Steak Fry. The event is a far cry from the 52 people who attended the first one in 1972. The largest year yet, 2007, saw more than 10,000 people arrive to watch Clinton and then rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards. This year, Harkin and the Clintons arrive from a morning event in Des Moines with 450 Harkin donors 20 minutes after the speaking schedule was due to begin. But they take their time, eating lunch, as Harkin always does, before greeting the press and flipping the traditional steak for the assembled cameras. More than 200 reporters from around the world are present to witness potential history.

“Are you running?” reporters repeatedly shout at Hillary. She demurs. She even pretends not to notice when, the event having finally started down the hill, a speaker starts asking the crowd: “Are you fired up? Are you ready to go? Are you ready for Hillary? ARE YOU READY FOR HILLARY?” he screams as the crowd roars.

“Are you ready, Hillary?” a reporter yells. She ignores all this and chats away with Harkin and his wife Ruth. Her husband can be heard saying: “As long as I’m still married to her, I’m doing good.”

After Harkin introduces the Clintons as the “comeback couple,” Hillary takes the stage to chants of her name. “Wow!” she says. “Hello Iowa. I’m baaaaack!” — a line made famous by the movie Independence Day.

As the crowd cheers and whistles, Clinton says she has a lot to look forward to these days. “First, Bill and I are on constant grandchild watch … So don’t be surprised if we suddenly go sprinting off the stage.”

“And then of course there’s that other thing,” she adds, to a standing ovation. “Well it is true, I am thinking about it. But for today, that is not why I’m here,” she says.

The crowd expresses disapproval at this. “I’m here for the steak!” she says, which gets them cheering again. “For years I was more likely to be eating yak meat in Mongolia, and enjoying it, but thinking a lot of being back home.”

It’s all red meat for the “Ready for Hillary” crowd, of course. But others say her election to the presidency isn’t a sure thing. Carter Bell, 20, president of the University of Iowa Democrats, says she likes what she’s hearing from Clinton, but she’s keeping an open mind for the 2016 caucuses. “I like [Vice President] Joe Biden a lot too. And I’ve met [Maryland Governor] Martin O’Malley a bunch of times as he’s been out here a lot,” she says. “And I love Elizabeth Warren, she’s great, but she may not run.” Bell says Clinton will have to do some work to earn her support.

Sitting on a beach chair nearby, Judy Keller, 66, Des Moines consumer-affairs representative, is convinced. She says she regrets supporting John Edwards in 2008. “I didn’t know that she’d have a chance in ’08,” she says. “ I thought a man would win. But now it’s time. It’s time for a woman. I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

TIME Foreign Policy

White House: Iraq War Vote Obama Opposed Could Be Used for ISIS Strikes

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama salutes as he arrives on the South Lawn of the White House, in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12, 2014 Evan Vucci—AP

President Barack Obama won the White House largely on his opposition to the Iraq War and was re-elected in 2012 on having ended the conflict. But his Administration is using the never repealed authorization vote as a supplementary legal justification for the planned expansion of the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

The New York Times first reported Friday that Obama Administration officials believe that the 2002 law which authorized the war “would serve as an alternative statutory authority basis on which the President may rely for military action in Iraq.” The news comes just months after National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was no longer operative.

“With American combat troops having completed their withdrawal from Iraq on December 18, 2001, the Iraq AUMF is no longer used for any U.S. government activities and the Administration fully supports its repeal,” Rice wrote to Speaker of the House John Boehner in July.

During the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Obama eviscerated then Senator Hillary Clinton for her vote in favor of the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, and in the election, drew sharp contrast with Senator John McCain over how to bring the war to an end.

A senior Administration official says the White House still supports repealing the 2002 law, and fully believes it can use the 2001 AUMF, passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to allow the U.S. to strike al-Qaeda, to justify the strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But the 2002 law would provide additional legal underpinning to strikes in Iraq — and even Syria — as scholars question the applicability of the 2001 authorization to ISIS, which publicly broke with al-Qaeda in Iraq.

“We believe that the President would have the statutory authority to conduct air strikes against [ISIS] in Syria under the 2002 AUMF in at least some circumstances,” the official said.

For the opening stages of the American air campaign, the 160-strike effort largely restricted to humanitarian missions, and protecting American personnel and facilities, Obama relied on his constitutional authority to protect the American people. Hours before Obama announced a broader campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamist militant group Wednesday, officials revealed that Obama would rely on the 2001 AUMF, which the Administration had said previously it hopes to reign in.

In a statement, the senior Administration official explained how the White House applies the 2001 law to ISIS:

The 2001 AUMF authorizes the use of “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” responsible for 9/11 and those who “harbored such organizations or persons.” The Administration has interpreted the 2001 AUMF to authorize the use of force against AQ, the Taliban, and associated forces. Based on ISIL’s longstanding relationship with al-Qa’ida (AQ) and Usama bin Laden; its long history of conducting, and continued desire to conduct, attacks against U.S. persons and interests, the extensive history of U.S. combat operations against ISIL dating back to the time the group first affiliated with AQ in 2004; and ISIL’s position — supported by some individual members and factions of AQ-aligned groups — that it is the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy, the President may rely on the 2001 AUMF as statutory authority for the use of force against ISIL, notwithstanding the recent public split between AQ’s senior leadership and ISIL.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Goes to Iowa

Hillary Clinton
Former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, reacts during a conference at the Seminar "Mexico Siglo XXI" (Mexico XXI Century) organized by Telmex foundation, in Mexico City on Sept. 5, 2014. Edgard Garrido—Reuters

This will be Clinton’s first visit to Iowa since she lost the caucuses in 2008

Sunday afternoon in Indianola, Iowa, is bound to be a spectacle. Former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary will be the keynote speakers at retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s 37th and last steak fry. Some 5,000 people—a third of the town’s population of 15,000—are expected to attend, including more than 200 journalists from around the world.

The former first lady’s every handshake and utterance will surely be parsed for signs of whether she’ll run for President again in 2016. This will be Clinton’s first trip back to Iowa since her humiliating third-place loss in the caucuses in 2008, a setback that ultimately cost her the nomination. Just in case she’s forgotten this painful fact, the Republican National Committee made a highlight reel of Clinton’s past failures in Iowa to remind her.

The event will surely look like a campaign. Ready for Hillary, her shadow grassroots campaign will be on hand to greet the former New York senator and Secretary of State. They have been encouraging Iowans to register for the event for months, and they’ll have the “Ready for Hillary” bus there.

As she was when she last attended this event seven years ago, Clinton is heavily favored to win the caucuses. If the caucuses were held today she’d garner 53% of the vote, according to a CNN/ORC poll of registered Iowa voters out Friday. That blows away the field: Vice President Joe Biden comes in a distant second with 15%, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has said repeatedly she won’t run, gets 7%, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has 5%, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo 3%, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley 2% and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick 1%.

And one of the biggest differences between 2007 and now is that at that Steak Fry, which is an annual fundraiser, then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards were eagerly anticipated guests in attendance. Ultimately, Obama would win the caucuses and Edwards would come in second. This time, there’s no rival in sight. Well, Sanders may show up (he’s holding an event in Des Moines that night), but few believe he’s a threat to Clinton the way Obama and Edwards were.

That said, many Iowans view Clinton’s candidacy with a grain of salt, and some will come to the Steak Fry to see how she behaves. She ran a decidedly non-retail campaign in 2008, visiting less than 60 of the 99 counties. Bill Clinton didn’t contest Iowa in 1992 as his host, Harkin, was on the ballot and an easy shoo-in. And he didn’t bother much with it during his reelection. Which means that Iowans feel like they don’t truly know the Clintons they way they know other politicians who’ve come to pay homage to the fickle first voters. And they’ll expect—or at least hope for—some signs of courtship from the Clintons.

Officially, Clinton isn’t running for President. She said last week that she’d make up her mind after Jan. 1 if she’ll enter the race. But that won’t stop speculation from running rampant. Let the pseudo-shadow-non-campaigning begin.

TIME politics

No, Hillary Clinton Isn’t The Frontrunner Because She’s a Woman

Secretary Of State Kerry Joined By Former Secretaries Break Ground On US Diplomacy Center
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks during the ceremonial groundbreaking of the future U.S. Diplomacy Center at the State Department's Harry S. Truman Building September 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Sorry, Chuck Todd—you're wrong about Hillary

During an interview with Charlie Rose this week, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd said, “If [Hillary Clinton] were running to be the second woman president, I think she would not even be considered a frontrunner.”

While I’ve always had deep respect for Chuck’s reporting and analysis, to imply that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner only because she’s a woman is not just offensive, it is flat-out wrong.

Writing off Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments and credentials as merely a result of her gender undermines the progress we’ve made toward equality in this country and is indicative of just how far we have to go. Nearly a century after women earned the right to vote, there still seems to be an underlying presumption that we aren’t as capable as our male counterparts. Even though women make up 60% of our college graduates and 70% of our high school valedictorians, they hold just 18.5% of the seats in Congress, 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions, and earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. The numbers get even more disappointing for women of color.

This systemic inequity is felt throughout our society, but especially in the media and especially with regard to Hillary Clinton.

While I do believe the country would benefit from having a female president, being a woman does not guarantee anyone frontrunner status. If that were the case, Michele Bachmann would have been the Republican frontrunner in 2012, but she didn’t even come close.

Why is that? Because the American people are smarter than that. The American people don’t vote on gender alone. They vote for the person they believe is the most qualified to lead our nation – gender, race and religion aside. The media needs to start giving Americans a little more credit for their decisions.

Americans know that Hillary Clinton is ready to be the next President of the United States. The enthusiasm behind Hillary Clinton is a result of her years of hard, incredible work serving this country and her fellow Americans. The fact that she’s a woman is just icing on the cake.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez represents California’s 46th Congressional District.

TIME 2014 Election

‘War on Women’ Motivates Voters for Midterm Election, Poll Finds

Pro-Choice Emily's List
Pro-choice demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Jan. 22, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

Democrats are betting they can turn out women and minorities to the polls

The “War on Women” seems to be working.

Voters such as women and minorities, who often turn out in smaller numbers during off-year elections, are more motivated to vote when they feel women’s access to birth control and abortion are threatened, and if women and families’ economic security is imperiled, according to a new poll given exclusively to TIME.

“In 2014, women voters have made it clear that they won’t stand for attacks on their economic security or their reproductive healthcare,” said Stephanie Schriock, president EMILY’s List, a group that elects pro-choice women and one of the poll’s sponsors. “The Republican Party’s relentless assault on women’s rights and freedoms is backfiring, and as long as they continue to ignore the real needs of working families, the gulf between them and women voters will only continue to grow.”

Democrats have pegged their hopes this fall to turning out women and minority voters, who tend to drop off during non-presidential election years. To that end, they have introduced and campaigned on a women’s economic agenda that includes raising the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects women, expanding paid medical leave and access to childcare. In 2010, Democrats lost women for the first time in decades, and subsequently lost the House and six Senate seats. Democrats are determined not to repeat that mistake in 2014.

The poll of these drop-off voters in 18 swing states, co-sponsored by EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and American Women, found that 23% of the drop-off voters surveyed ranked their enthusiasm for voting at less than half, but that number plummeted to 12% after hearing motivational messages about women’s health and economic security. Nearly three-quarters, or 74%, called the idea that failing to vote would be sending a message that they endorse the status quo a “very motivating” factor to vote. The same number said “helping working families get ahead” was a “very motivating” factor to vote.

Democrats have been pounding Republicans for their “War on Women,” not just on the economic front—for refusing to vote to increase the minimum wage and for Equal Pay, for example—but on the reproductive front. This strategy was highly effective in 2012, when two GOP Senate candidates made inartful statements about rape and abortion that turned off women voters nationally. The survey found that 70% of drop-off voters said they found reproductive rights and the chance to vote against a pro-life politician a “very motivating” factor to go to the polls in November. And 70% of those polled said allowing an employer to dictate what healthcare coverage a woman gets was a “very motivating” reason to vote.

“This poll confirms what we’re hearing from voters as our supporters knock doors and make phone calls in key states: issues like access to birth control and abortion will get voters to the polls this November,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president, Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Republicans, recognizing the problem, have introduced their own Equal Pay legislation and flexible work bills in both chambers, though the bills have yet to see votes. They’ve also made efforts to recruit more women to run for office, a campaign which has seen some progress in the Senate but has fallen short in the House. A recent poll commissioned by two GOP groups, including one backed by Karl Rove, found that female voters view the party as “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion” and “stuck in the past.”

Still, that may prove more of a problem for Republicans in 2016, when Democrats may have a woman, Hillary Clinton, on the top of the ticket, than in 2014. Drop-off voters are notoriously difficult to motivate and Republicans have had fewer gaffes than they did in 2012 concerning rape and abortion. Much will depend on how Democrats effectively make their closing arguments in the final weeks of the election.

Anzalone Liszt Grove Research conducted the telephone poll of 1,000 drop-off voters in 18 battleground states. It included oversamples of 100 Hispanic drop-off voters and 400 likely 2014 swing voters. Interviews were conducted Aug. 4-13. The margin of error for the sample as a whole is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The battleground states are: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Won’t Name Colleague Who Called Her ‘Porky’

Senators Discuss Legislation To Counter Sexual Assaults On Campus
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) participates in a news conference about new legislation aimed at curbing sexual assults on college and university campuses at the U.S. Capitol. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Her book is a call for women to run for office, though she says she has no current designs on the nation’s highest office

She still considers herself the “loud mouth” and “fog horn” her father teasingly called her as a child, but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Monday that she is not going to say which colleague called her “porky” after the birth of her second child, or which elderly senator told her not to slim down too much because he likes “my girls chubby.”

Those disclosures in her book, “Off the Sidelines,” which is due out Tuesday, made waves when they were printed in People Magazine last week. While taken aback by the clamor to disclose her critics’ names, Gillibrand says she knew that chapter—the one about her struggles with her weight—would be “the one every women’s magazine would excerpt,” she tells TIME. “I use these illustrations as an example of much larger point. It’s important to have a debate about how women are treated in the workplace. I’m not alone in having someone say something stupid. It’s less important who they are than what they said.”

The New York Democrat is using her book to promote her push to engage more women in politics. She holds her own life up as an example of finding a way to have it all: the big career, two young sons and loving marriage. “We need new and better policies that support women and allow all women to rise,” Gillibrand writes. “We need to end the cycle of women studying hard, starting careers, climbing through the ranks, taking time off to care for children, and never again finding a job as good as the one they left.”

Gillibrand is frank about the hardships: dispiriting credit or criticisms over her appearance, being unable even now to afford full time help and coming home from Congress to clean the bathroom when you have three men in the house (boys, apparently, don’t have great aim). But she also waxes poetic about the good she feels she has been able to accomplish: passing health care for the 9/11 first responders, tackling sexual assault in the military and on college campuses and repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Gillibrand emphasizes that her flexible schedule in the Senate is what allows her to do it all. “These challenges that I face are common and not surprising, and I have it so much easier than working moms,” says Gillibrand, whose husband works in New York and lives up there for most of the week, leaving Gillibrand to care single-handedly for their two young sons in Washington. “I don’t have to be at work at a certain time.”

She writes about the importance of being unabashedly ambitious without the fear of seeming like, well, a bitch. “I was nicknamed Tracy Flick, the aggressive, comical, and somewhat unhinged blond high school student played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie Election,” Gillibrand writes. “It was a put down to me and other ambitious women, meant to keep us in our place. Yes, I’m competitive. I fight for what I believe in, and I drive hard toward my goals. Does that make me ruthless and crazed? No.”

Too many women, she argues, sit on the sidelines because they fear ambition. She says she timed the book to come out just before the midterm elections because she hopes to inspire more women to go out and vote, and to realize that political ambitions of their own are more achievable than they may think. But, when asked if she has further political ambitions in life, Gillibrand is clear about being happy where she is—and that her legislative plate is full with a reauthorization of the 9/11 First Responders bill and another pass at getting prosecution of cases of sexual assault in the military removed from the chain of command. Her bill fell six votes short of breaking a filibuster earlier this year.

She says she doesn’t want to run for governor and hasn’t the slightest intention of seeking the Democratic nomination for President in 2016 against presumed front-runner Hillary Clinton, her predecessor in the Senate and who wrote the glowing forward to Gillibrand’s book (“For Kirsten,” Clinton writes, “public service isn’t a job. It’s a calling.”).

But the book tour still means she gets asked questions about her future ambitions.

“Will you run for President?” I asked her on Monday.

“No,” she said.

“What if Hillary doesn’t run?”

“No.”

“Are you ruling it out?”

“Ask me in 10 years.”

“How about in 2020?”

“No.”

“2024?”

“No.”

“Which will come first, a third kid or running for President?”

“Oooh,” Gillibrand said, “That is such a hard question. I think they’re both off the table. Probably having a third—probably have a third would come first if I could convince my husband. I’d love having a third.”

TIME U.S.

Shut Up Already About Obama’s Tan Suit! Let’s Talk Substance Over Style

President Obama Makes Statement In The Briefing Room Of White House
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House August 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Suitgate is giving the president a taste of what it's like to live in a woman's world. But what good does that do anyone?

Female politicians have been criticized for what they wear since they first began running for office. Hair too long, skirt too short, too much or too little makeup: any and all of it can derail an interview and focus attention on style over substance. It almost doesn’t matter what you say if you don’t look good doing it, the television adage goes.

Welcome to the women’s world, President Obama. Isn’t it fun? The tempest over the President wearing a tan summer suit on Thursday has virtually overshadowed the important messages he delivered on hostilities in Ukraine and Iraq. As a woman, I’m kind of glad to see a man held to the same crazy standards that we are. But that doesn’t make the standards any less ridiculous, male or female.

This President seems particularly prone to sartorial bullying. Obama has been criticized far more than other recent Presidents; I had to really think hard for similar sturm und drang for George Bushes 1 & 2 or Bill Clinton and came up with virtually nothing (unless you count Clinton making the G7 leaders get dressed up as cowboys, but that seemed more like him having some fun at their expense than an actual fashion misstep). But Obama has drawn ire for his lack of an American flag pin during the primaries that fed conspiracy theories that he wasn’t really American; his mom jeans; and just last week, his lack of tie while addressing the crisis in Iraq from Martha’s Vineyard, where he was vacationing.

What we wear has no impact on what we’re saying, so why does it matter so much? Hillary Clinton has been drawing scrutiny and headlines since velvet headband in her her 60 Minutes interview with Bill in 1992. Sarah Palin got savaged for her big hair, heavy makeup and “porn-star looks.” Condoleeza Rice was accused of going too sexy when she wore black leather knee high boots as Secretary of State. Just last year, the New York Times marked the historic number of women in the 113th Congress by doing a fashion profile of their purses. And these are the things we remember: their hair, their pedicures, their heads photoshopped onto a woman in a bikini, not so much their policies or platforms. Because style is always easier to digest than substance.

Up until recently, men seemed relatively immune to this kind of fluffy criticism. Granted, male politicians rarely venture beyond dull grey suits. Obama once told Vanity Fair in 2012 that he only wore grey and blue suits. But when they do break this unspoken rule, as Obama did on Thursday, do they deserve the kind of evisceration that he got? “The Audacity of Taupe,” tweeted Jared Keller, a programming director at startup MicNews. “Yes we tan!” read another headline. Wall Street Journal economic-policy reporter Damian Paletta tweeted, “I’m sorry but you can’t declare war in a suit like that.” Never mind that the President just announced he had no strategy for the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

Sometimes a boring uniform can be helpful: It creates unanimity and a reassuring predictability. It’s why the military has uniforms. But America isn’t a militarized state. And verging outside the norm shouldn’t detract from important work. Women have learned this the hard way: conform or die, politically. And even a pro like Clinton can still draw criticism after 30 years in the public spotlight when, in the midst of international crises, she didn’t wear makeup or have time to cut her hair. It’s dispiriting to see the same level of scrutiny now being applied to men. I wish the great equalizer would be to leave all comments about appearances off the table.

Jay Newton-Small is TIME’s congressional correspondent and she’s working on a book about women in politics.

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