MANCHESTER, NH — The polls have opened in New Hampshire for the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, and while the outcome in the Republican field is anyone’s guess, every poll of the state’s Democrats has Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) with an overwhelming advantage among all age groups and genders.
Over the weekend, two of Clinton’s most prominent feminist surrogates appeared to question the motives of women who don’t back former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. At a campaign rally on Saturday, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright exhorted the state’s women voters to support Clinton, using one of her signature phrases: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
Then, veteran feminist activist Gloria Steinem said in an interview with Bill Maher, “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’” She has since apologized, explaining, “What I had just said on the same show was the opposite: young women are active, mad as hell about what’s happening to them, graduating in debt, but averaging a million dollars less over their lifetimes to pay it back. Whether they gravitate to Bernie or Hillary, young women are activist and feminist in greater numbers than ever before.”
But for many of the women ThinkProgress spoke to on Election Day in New Hampshire, the damage was done.
Early Tuesday morning, high school senior Monica Johnson cast the first presidential ballot of her life for Sanders.
She made the decision after months of reading up on each candidate’s policies, attending the town halls of some Republican candidates, and hearing Clinton, Sanders, and Martin O’Malley speak at New Hampshire’s Democratic convention in September. “After that I knew Bernie was my guy,” she told ThinkProgress. “I agreed with his policies more than hers, especially on college affordability.”
Johnson said she was also won over by Sanders’ voting record and life story, growing up in Brooklyn’s tenements with working-class, immigrant parents. “People ask me, ‘How does a young lady relate to a 74-year-old man?’ But hearing about the financial struggles he faced as a kid, and how much he talks about the struggles everyday American are facing, that’s what’s resonating with me,” she said. “And me being African American, the fact that he’s been standing up for civil rights for so long definitely impressed me.”
The comments on young women this week only drove Johnson further away from supporting Clinton’s campaign. “They’re reaching out to women but they’re insulting us at the same,” she told ThinkProgress. “It’s frustrating because feminism is already so misinterpreted as a bunch of crazy, angry women. I get into so many heated arguments at school, trying to tell people that anyone can be a feminist, even a man like Bernie.”
“Having a woman president would be awesome,” she added, “but I’m not just going to vote based on gender. I’m looking at policy.”
At a mock election at her high school last week, Johnson said Sanders won by a landslide.
When 26-year-old Manchester resident Brittni Allen heard Steinem’s comments, she said it blew her mind.
“Oh my gosh, I couldn’t believe she said we were only helping the Bernie campaign because that’s where the boys are. I brought my boyfriend to support Bernie. He didn’t even know who Bernie was,” she told ThinkProgress after voting on Tuesday. “It was repulsive she said that, but I try to keep that separate from Hillary. Hillary doesn’t say things like that.”
For Allen, who majored in economics at the University of Arkansas, it also comes down to policy. She said she favors Sanders’ economic plans, especially taxing Wall Street transactions to make public colleges tuition-free. She herself graduated with $80,000 in student debt, which she says is now preventing her from buying a home.
Allen, who runs a Facebook group for feminists in New Hampshire also cited that Clinton’s past positions for the Iraq War and against same-sex marriage as problematic, despite Clinton’s current support for equal rights. “She supported DOMA, which is a lot to get over,” she said. “If Bernie loses in the end, I’m fairly sure I’m a ‘vote blue no matter what’ person, but it will be hard to vote for Hillary.”
Older women told ThinkProgress they were also turned off by recent messaging from the Clinton campaign. Kay Marshall, who has been a nurse for more than three decades at Anna Jaques Hospital just over the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border, said she thought the idea women have a duty to support Clinton is “hogwash.”
“Women have the responsibility to vote responsibly, whether it’s for a man or a woman, for whoever is going to be the best candidate,” she said. “It’s got nothing to do with gender. I don’t agree with that at all.”
Marshall, who wore bright red nurses’ scrubs as she joined a last-minute canvass for the Sanders’ campaign outside Manchester, said Sanders’ support for single-payer health care won her over. “Some people are paying like a quarter of their salary just to afford health care, and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “I see quite a few patients who are coming in because they can’t afford the medication for their condition, whatever it may be. You shouldn’t have to decide, ‘Am I going to eat or am I going to take my meds?’ I think by going to a single-payer would be better for a lot of families, because you wouldn’t have the high premiums and co-pays you’re paying out of pocket. Even if taxes go up a little bit, you’re still going to save money.
Marshall said her father, an Irish immigrant who faced barriers to voting because he was Catholic, instilled in her the importance of voting from an early age, and she’s been a dedicated participant ever since she turned 18. “The only responsibility women have is to vote, period,” she said.