By Peter Canellos, Globe Washington Bureauu Chief
DENVER -- When Democrats think of diehard Hillary Clinton supporters -- the folks that so many people at this week's convention are eager to appease -- they think of people like Representative Carolyn Maloney, the 60-year-old New Yorker and author of a new book called "Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated."
Maloney says she was driven to write the book after witnessing the sexism directed at Clinton during the primary-election campaign. Maloney, who represents a wealthy Upper East Side district, contends that society still punishes women who dare to think big.
Maloney and Clinton share a generational perspective on women's advancement, from overcoming society's limited expectations for girls, to coping with boorish first bosses who didn't want women in the workplace, to struggling for advancement in a political culture where women quickly get labeled as too soft or too hard.
Maloney's sympathy for Clinton may be based on hard experience -- but it's not going to prevent her or many other of Clinton's generational sisters in the women's movement from voting for Barack Obama.
Instead of worrying about feminists, the Obama campaign should be thinking about women like Laura Klein, a Denver nurse, who opted for Clinton over Obama because she believes that Clinton "doesn't suffer fools gladly." Having had a "front-row seat" in the health-care system, Klein said, she was convinced that Clinton had the best plan to deliver universal coverage.
"No one is going to pull her strings, like we have in Washington now with the Halliburton/Cheney machine," quipped Klein, in praising Clinton's battle-hardened realism.
As a healthcare professional, Klein is an economic rung ahead of many of the working-class women who crowded Clinton's rallies during the primary campaign, but her attraction to Clinton mirrors theirs.
The fact that many working-class women came out for Clinton in the primaries was a little bit of a surprise: During her husband's campaigns, Clinton was usually cast as the uptight product of ivy-covered Northeastern schools and an elite feminist sensibility.
But working-class women clearly saw something in her life story, and crowded into her events from the earliest days of the Iowa campaign. They often came in groups, sometimes with children. The women would hold up their kids, hoping to give them a glimpse of the candidate. Then they would crowd around her when the event was over, hoping for a quick word, an autograph, or even a hug.
Why the big attraction? A good guess is that Clinton was literal and grounded in her approach to issues, stressing the tangible benefits of her programs. (She frequently fielded specific questions about what would be covered under her healthcare plan.) And many working-class women said they felt that Clinton, as a woman, understood their struggles in a way that men might not.
Obama can't change his gender, but he should realize that stressing the tangible benefits he can offer families, and a realistic approach to solving the Big Three problems of energy, healthcare, and Iraq, might be enough to make sure these erstwhile Clinton supporters show up at the polls and vote for him.
There have been recent signals that he understands this message -- and some that he doesn't.
In the first few weeks after clinching the Democratic nomination, Obama went on the offensive against John McCain, slamming the Republican party on a range of bread-and-butter issues. But then, when Obama headed off on his overseas tour, punctuated by his giant rally in Berlin, it was McCain who took the offensive on energy, promoting off-shore drilling, and warned families that Obama would raise their taxes.
Obama's selection of Delaware Senator Joe Biden may be an acknowledgment that he still has a ways to go to win over white working-class voters; Biden hails from gritty Scranton, Pennsylvania -- the same city where Hillary Clinton's grandfather worked in a factory.
On Thursday, when Obama delivers his acceptance speech, he is sure to remind women voters that the next president will probably play a key role in shaping the Supreme Court, and that abortion rights hang in the balance.
That, by itself, will be enough to get most upscale feminists on board; but Obama will have to work a little harder to win over the working-class women who saw something of themselves in Hillary Clinton.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.