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Trump's 'locker room' talk eclipses Clinton's historic moment

As she claimed enough votes in June to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton credited "generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible."

Volunteer Susan Furey at the Clinton campaign office in Ardmore on Friday.
Volunteer Susan Furey at the Clinton campaign office in Ardmore on Friday.Read more( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )

As she claimed enough votes in June to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton credited "generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible."

Now some Clinton supporters fear that the potential historic milestone for women Tuesday could be diminished by the gender controversies surrounding her rival.

"It's upsetting that Hillary would win, and people would say, it's only because of Donald Trump," said Frances Patano, 21, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania.

Republican Trump has been at the center of much of the national conversation about gender in the run-up to Tuesday's election, from his mockery of women's appearances to his videotaped 2005 talk of grabbing women by the genitals - remarks he initially described as "locker room" talk - to sexual-assault allegations.

For Clinton backers who had celebrated the nomination of the first female major-party presidential candidate, watching the campaign season turn into a debate over lewd rhetoric has been a disappointment.

"You expect it because he's the nominee, but you were hopeful he wouldn't be the nominee," said Susan Furey, a former teacher, union political-action director, and leader of a Democratic women's coalition.

Furey, who argues Clinton's credentials have been overshadowed, had been "hopeful there would have been some disagreement about issues."

As Clinton faces renewed attention to her use of a private email server - spurred by the FBI announcing it had discovered new emails - she has sought lately to keep the focus on Trump's statements about women.

She has resurrected the candidate's comments: An ad released by her campaign last week blends clips of Trump from the now-infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape, as well as past interviews. ("When I come home and dinner's not ready, I go through the roof," he says in a clip from 1994.)

The ad also makes reference to sexual-assault allegations against Trump, which the businessman has denied.

"I would frankly rather be here talking about nearly anything else," Clinton said last week at a rally in Florida, where she accused her rival of "demeaning, degrading, insulting, and assaulting women." But "it matters. We can't wish it away."

Vying with President Obama in the 2008 primary contest, Clinton said she was "not running as a woman," but "because I believe I am the best qualified and experienced."

In this race, Clinton has been "much more comfortable" talking about gender - emphasizing her work on behalf of women and children, for example, said Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers University-Camden and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics.

But Clinton hasn't played up the historic aspect of her candidacy as much as her surrogates have, Dittmar said, adding that too much history-making "can turn people off."

Trump's candidacy, meanwhile, has made the "highly masculine" nature of presidential politics even more overt, Dittmar said. The GOP presidential nominee, who dismissed primary opponents Marco Rubio as "little" and Jeb Bush as "weak," has accused Clinton of not having enough stamina.

Reaction to his approach is "sort of a referendum on how we see the presidency," Dittmar said.

A PRRI/The Atlantic survey last month found 41 percent of Americans agreed that society has become "too soft and feminine," while 52 percent disagreed. Among Republicans, 64 percent agreed with the statement, compared with 28 percent of Democrats.

Thirty-six percent of Americans in the survey agreed that "these days society seems to punish men just for acting like men," vs. 56 percent who disagreed.

Among those who agreed with the "punishing men" statement, 45 percent were Trump supporters, and 34 percent were Clinton supporters.

Polls show white college-educated women backing Clinton by double-digit margins, a voting bloc that could offset turnout by white non-college-educated men for Trump, said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week found white college-educated women favored Clinton over Trump 59 percent to 32 percent. In contrast, white college-educated women voted in 2012 for Republican Mitt Romney by a six-point margin, although they have voted Democratic by modest margins in previous elections, Frey said.

"We don't really know yet whether this is just a Trump effect, because of the kinds of signals he's given to women," or whether the white college-educated female vote will become a reliable Democratic voting bloc in the future, along with racial minorities, Frey said.

Some Clinton supporters say they can't understand how other women are supporting Trump. "It just bothers me that women take all these things and put them aside," said Janet Barnes, a retired math teacher from Secane. "I feel like, as an African American woman, he's taken us back into the 1960s."

Eileen Blessington, 73, of Aldan, said she was stunned by the course the campaign had taken. "The things I've heard him say about women, I've never heard that from anybody."

For female Trump supporters like Pat Poprik, it isn't that they like the candidate's comments. But "I am far more offended by [Clinton's] lies, her dishonesty," said Poprik, the Bucks County GOP chair.

Describing the Access Hollywood tape as "two guys yukking it up in a car," Poprik said, "If he said it to a group of women, maybe I'd be offended."

As for the sexual-assault allegations, "they now wait until this minute?" Poprik said. Some of the women who have recently accused Trump of making unwanted advances say they were upset that he denied that he had ever done what he bragged about in the 2005 tape.

Poprik, who is the first female GOP chair in Bucks County, said she's used to being an "oddity" in a male-dominated realm.

"It is surmountable," she said. "I've always moved past it."

She doesn't take pride in Clinton's potentially becoming president. "The first woman to be elected should be not coming in under such a cloud," Poprik said, referring to FBI scrutiny.

Clinton supporters contend that the email controversy - reignited by FBI Director James Comey's letter to lawmakers announcing that more emails had been found that "appear to be pertinent" to the agency's investigation into Clinton's server - has been overblown.

But they are concerned about the implications for other women if Clinton makes history again Tuesday.

"She can't do anything wrong. One mistake, and that's it for women," said Patano, who is from Pasadena, Calif., and is a fall fellow with the Pennsylvania Democrats. "Hopefully that's not the case, but I wouldn't be surprised."