Kellyanne Conway (left) and Hillary Clinton. Photos by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
Kellyanne Conway (left) and Hillary Clinton. Photos by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

By Colleen O’Connor

What irony. Possibly the most watched debate in U.S. political history is not — as widely advertised — between a Democrat and a Republican or even Trump vs. Clinton.

It is between two women. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Kellyanne Fitzpatrick Conway.

One the public has known for decades. The other hardly at all.

Yet, their clash will determine the future of the United States. Two women from two different generations. Clinton born in 1947 and Conway in 1967.

Yet, in many ways they are almost mirror twins.

Both women. Both mothers. Both lawyers. Both disciplined. Both political. And both trailblazing firsts.

Clinton as first woman presidential nominee of a majority political party. Kellyanne as the first woman named campaign manager for a Republican Party presidential nominee.

Clinton’s resume — in the headlights of Americans for generations — needs no repetition here.

Conway has toiled successfully in the less glaring world of polling — originally for corporate clients wanting to woo women consumers. More recently, for political clients that range from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Vice President Dan Quayle to Ted Cruz’ Super-PAC — all wanting to woo women voters.

The Trump campaign referred to her as “widely regarded as an expert on female consumers and voters.”

Conway is considered smart, thoughtful, and tough — as well as a committed Republican. A younger match for her mirror twin — Clinton.

And she is good enough at her job to earn the Washington Post’s Crystal Ball Award for correctly predicting elections.

Why? Because she studies the nuances and sees the trends ahead of the curve and works alongside Democratic pollster Celinda Lake — a leading Democratic party pollster. Hence, she has an ability to better understand the opposition.

She comprehends what the younger generation wants in a candidate — the generation that might make the difference in this now close Presidential election.

Young people, she wrote, “are holding out for a hero who shows them that it is worth their time and energy to vote. For Generation X, it’s not a question of ‘For whom should I vote?’ but ‘Why should I vote?’ A strong position on the issues is the cost of admission for any candidate who wishes to appeal to Generation X. On top of that, of course, is the right combination of message, messenger, and delivery style. But there’s no magical formula for winning the votes of Generation Xers. They aren’t single-issue voters, and they don’t favor the same type of candidate every time. Candidates have to bring a great deal to the table to attract these voters—they have to show them what they believe in, what they want to do, and how they plan to do it.”

Something of a long-time critic of Clinton, Conway’s blog posts offer other glimpses into Monday night’s debate focus. As she wrote about Clinton’s 2006 U.S. Senate campaign:

“[Clinton’s] pollster was paid $1.1 million. I know Mark Penn is creative, but all the focus groups in the world can’t make her less Clinton and more Clinton. How many ways can you ask people in a survey if they prefer to see you in the black pantsuit or the navy one, if they regard you more as Margaret Thatcher or Joan of Arc?”

That’s a not so subtle reference to age and uncool — deadly insinuations for the perpetually young Generation X population that both parties need to attract. They are also indicative of the “health/coughing” emphasis of the once-trailing Trump campaign.

Clinton’s strengths in poll after poll are women, minority, highly educated, older and urban voters. Her get-out-the-vote task is easier. Older voters are the most reliable ones. And most of them have a personal history of being in the trenches during the explosive 1960s, protesting Vietnam and seeking civil and voting rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, environmental causes and justice for farmworkers.

The 60s movements are Clinton’s history and she is proud of it. The Reagan anti-60s or 1980s are Conway’s history and she is proud of that. For example, Conway counsels “femininity” not “feminism” to her clients.

Two women. Two champions. One big night.

As the conservative Daily Caller suggested, “If Donald Trump wins, we might well look back at the day he hired Kellyanne Conway and declare that this was the turning point of his campaign.”

Ironically enough, it is the success of the Clinton years that made Conway’s rise possible.


Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.

Show comments