On Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, there was much speculation and anticipation for the first public appearance by Hillary Clinton since she left her role as secretary of state, and she did not disappoint the audience.
A largely female audience there to attend Vital Voices' Global Awards Dinner greeted her enthusiastically. Vital Voices is an organization Clinton founded fifteen years ago that seeks to empower and equip women across the globe with the necessary skills and training to make a positive impact.
Many speculated that this was the start of the 2016 presidential campaign, as Vice President Biden was also invited to speak at the event. There was no talk, however, of future plans by either former candidate and instead, only effusive praise of each other's work to end violence against women and honor women leaders around the world.
It was in 1995 that then-First Lady Clinton made international headlines when, at the UN World Conference of Women in Beijing, China, she uttered the words, "human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights." To this day, many say it was a watershed moment for women in the fight for gender equality across the globe.
But in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign, her championship of women did not translate into automatic support by women for her candidacy. Clinton barely won 50 percent of the women's vote in the Democratic primary fight against Barack Obama. She also did not receive unanimous support among women elected leaders, with several of her female Senate colleagues, such as Amy Klobuchar and Claire McCaskill, endorsing Obama.
Polling showed a generational divide where Hillary captured more older women voters while Obama captured the younger generation. Women in the middle split between the two. The younger woman voter didn't feel a sense of obligation to vote for the first "one of their own," but instead felt more passion for Obama's message of hope and his vision for the future.
The good news is that the demographics of today's general electorate appear much more friendly. Women have supported the Democratic candidate in each of the last six elections and continue to grow their share of the electorate, which was 53 percent in 2012. In addition, the 20-point gender gap in 2012 was the largest in history favoring Obama over Romney.
If Hillary decides to run in 2016, she will be 69 years old, and will once again face generational challenges with women voters in a fight for the nomination, as the primary field will not be cleared. More even than in 2008, she will need to heed the lessons of past elections and know that the women's vote is not guaranteed. Instead, she will have to be mindful that each generation must be earned and inspired by the promise of a more prosperous tomorrow, and not obligation for the past.