As Clinton makes history, some already take it for granted

PHILADELPHIA — Within hours, Virginia Webb would stand with the rest of the Georgia delegation here at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday and vote for the first woman ever to head a major party's presidential ticket.

But her thoughts would be with another woman, one who had fought to put her here, and one who did not live to see it happen.

"My grandmother was a suffragette," said Webb, 59, who evoked that era with a white "HILLARY FOR AMERICA" sash across her frilly blue dress. "She made history 96 years ago, marching for a woman's right to vote, and now we have the first woman for president."

Or at least the first one who has a strong chance of reaching the Oval Office.

Milestones of history can look smaller through a windshield than they do through a rear-view mirror. That is especially true if the road has been long and winding and it is not clear what lies around the next turn.

[Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton despite sharp divisions]

"Because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States," first lady Michelle Obama had said the night before, in her address to the Democratic National Convention.

That it no longer seems like such a big deal speaks to the fact that Clinton herself was slow to embrace the singular nature of her first White House campaign. Never before 2008 had a woman won so much as a single state in a major party's presidential primary.

But that seemed only an asterisk compared with the prospect of electing an African-American as president. So she played up her experience and seasoning in a campaign that seemed almost genderless – practically right up to the concession speech where she declared that she and her supporters had put "18 million cracks" in "that highest, hardest glass ceiling."

"In this contest, maybe different in 2016 than it was in 2008, she has embraced the nature, the historic nature of her candidacy, and it is a sign that there has been progress," John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman, said Tuesday.

"I think she has reflected upon that," he added at a breakfast that was hosted by Bloomberg Politics. "She is not asking anybody to vote for her because she is a woman, but I think she brings that unique sense of history."

At a time when everything about politics seems brutal and bitter, Clinton's nomination offers many in her party a chance to remember the sweetness they felt eight years ago.

"At the convention in 2008, it was an extraordinary experience to see an African American man with the name Barack Obama be nominated – I had to pinch myself," said Estela Vazquez, 68, a member of the New York delegation. "And the possibility of electing the first woman president – it's extraordinary."

And lagging behind the rest of the world, added Vazquez, who is from the Dominican Republic.

"For my granddaughters – and when my great-granddaughters are born – they'll have the ability to aspire to something like that," she said. "In other Latin American countries, it has been done."

Indeed, Chile elected Michelle Bachelet in 2005. Since then, in a region known for its machismo, Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica have all had female presidents as well.

Whether and how her gender will be an electoral advantage for Clinton remain to be seen. Her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, has accused her of playing the "woman card," and he has said she would be at 5 percent in the polls if she had a Y chromosome.

But polling suggests that Americans are, as the first lady suggested, almost blasé at a moment they have seen coming for such a long time.

The latest of those surveys was taken in July by CBS News and the New York Times. It found 30 percent saying the fact Clinton is a woman helps her as a candidate, 14 percent saying it hurts her and 56 percent saying it makes no difference.

Last year, The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation asked in a survey whether women thought electing other women was important to improving all of their lives. Only 38 percent called it a top priority – which ranked well below other concerns, including increasing access to affordable child care (64 percent), reducing domestic violence (84 percent) and improving women's health care (60 percent).

There is also the fact that Clinton herself has been part of the nation's consciousness for so long, as first lady, a senator from New York and secretary of state. Often stilted as a politician, she remains a divisive figure and one whose character most Americans say they mistrust.

The wounds of the bitter primary season also have not healed.

Retired electrician Lahoma Buckley, 66, and her friend Kathy Adair, 64, a retired retail worker, plan to vote for a woman this fall – Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee.

The Michigan women, who had supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vt., attended a "Bernie or Bust" rally in a public square here Tuesday.

[Despite calls of 'Bernie or Bust,' Sanders goes all in to help Clinton]

"She's the wrong woman," Buckley said of Clinton. "I don't like her and I don't like her positions and I think she's corrupt."

For some, the real test of the significance of Clinton's nomination is whether it will encourage other women to run – and voters to elect them.

Documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi recalled how her mother, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was demonized and caricatured when she became the first female speaker of the House in 2007.

"It's so much worse for women," Alexandra Pelosi said. "I was always worried that women who saw what happened to my mother would be discouraged." Yet she also noted that many young women now throng to her mom to take selfies.

Perhaps no one else in the convention hall had quite the perspective of Jerry Emmett, who, at 102, can recall her elation the first time she saw her mother, Winnie, cast a ballot.

"I'm crying, and I never cry," Emmett said of Clinton. "She deserves it so much. She has been so good and such an example that we can do anything."

Joel Achenbach, Scott Clement, Kayla Epstein, Ed O'Keefe, Lois Romano, Robert Samuels and Vanessa Williams contributed to this report.