On Saturday in Washington, D.C., Hillary Clinton said a final adieu to her supporters and staff as she gave up her quest to become America's first female president. "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 in her farewell address. "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."
More than 400 miles away in Columbus, Ohio, while Clinton was delivering her remarks, 75 women were gathered for a political training program hoping to add a few more cracks or even break through that glass.
There, 28-year-old Denise Williams said she watched Clinton's speech on a hotel TV surrounded by her female peers. She said she nodded on high notes and admitted to slightly tearing up during others. She found inspiration in Clinton's words, as they hardened her own desire to run for elected office someday.
"If she can do it on that level, then why can't we do it on a community or local level?" Williams said by telephone on Monday.
She and her female colleagues spent the weekend learning how to become politicians through the program "Ohio Go Run," an Ohio-centric offering from the White House Project, an organization that aims to put women in leadership positions. The White House Project expanded its training programs this year, giving them in several new states, including Ohio, which ranks 41st in the nation for female political leadership, even though the electorate seems responsive to having a woman in office. Clinton beat Barack Obama in the Buckeye State by 10 percentage points. And as women apply for the programs in Ohio and Michigan, Colorado and Georgia, White House Project staffers can't help but notice a trend.
"We see the words Hillary Clinton in our application," says National Program Director Erin Vilardi. "She has moved women from all political affiliations and inspired them with her candidacy." And while Clinton's efforts fell short, White House Project President Marie Wilson says that she believes Clinton still had a positive impact on women who might consider someday running for office. "You can say, 'Well, [Clinton] didn't make it,' 'Well, she didn't win,' but the fact that she kept working, I think, was a great inspiration to women," Wilson says. More and more women have expressed to the organization that they want to walk in the footsteps of Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she adds.
It could take some time before researchers figure out what the Clinton candidacy has done for women's perception of politics. "I think it's too soon to see how it will really shake itself out," says Sarah Brewer, the associate director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. "It was truly inspiring to many women but not to some." And for now, says Brewer, no one knows what populations Clinton inspired.
Despite that, the political training programs have piqued the interest of young women, a group, according to Brewer, that is generally harder to attract into public office. On average, 60 percent of the women attending the "Go Run" programs are under 35. "Why that's so good is that the majority of leading politicians ran for office before they were 35," explains Wilson.
The program's aim is to demystify the process of running for office so that women feel comfortable doing it. "The best way to get women to run is to invite them in," Wilson said. The White House Project introduces potential politicos to those already entrenched in politics. And it teaches them the basics of fundraising, networking, public speaking, and dealing with the media.
Last weekend's program came at a particularly interesting time because as attendees watched Clinton exit from the race, they were being encouraged to run for political office. For Williams, who will graduate from Kent State University in December with a degree in healthcare administration, the weekend was an opportunity to learn how to position herself for perhaps a state House or state Senate bid in the future and then—who knows?—maybe national office.
"I remember when I was a fifth grader, my teacher told me, 'You'll be president of the United States one day.' I thought he must be crazy," Williams said. After she watched Clinton, her teacher's words no longer seemed so far-fetched.
Women who attended the weekend's panel discussions and workshops and spoke by phone after the training generally agreed that Clinton had done them a service, even those who didn't necessarily support her at the ballot box.
"I thought it was small steps for the United States and huge steps for womanhood," says Cat Fincun, a 22-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer and Obama supporter. "It's awesome that there was a woman candidate."
So agreed Deborah McKinney, the City Council president and vice mayor of a small town northwest of Cincinnati, who came to the training as a participant and a speaker. "Even though I did not support her and do not have the beliefs that she does, I appreciate the cracks that she put in that glass ceiling," says McKinney, a Republican.
While the program sheds light on what it's like to be a woman in politics, some women still have reservations. "I tried to get a lot of my friends to go to the workshop, and the thing that turned everybody off was politics and running for office—I think politics has become a dirty word," says Fincun. She says she knows plenty of accomplished young women, but "we see politicians not doing the things they say they are going to do," and this discourages the women from running for office. Fincun says she plans to stay in the nonprofit sector instead but still gained great networking ties from the weekend.
Others are now more ready than ever to follow Clinton and Pelosi and make the dive into public office, such as 34-year-old Laurel Beatty, the director of legislative affairs for Ohio's female secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner. Beatty wants to run for judge one day.
"When the right race comes up, I will jump in. One thing I've really learned this weekend, too, is there are things I could be doing now. I could start laying the groundwork," she said. "I have tools to start getting ready."