Clinton launches drive to break "glass ceiling"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton launched a drive on Tuesday to mobilize women voters to help her break the “hardest and highest” glass ceiling by winning the White House.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton addresses Emily's List, a political network for pro-choice Democratic women candidates, in Washington, March 6, 2007. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Clinton, a New York senator who hopes to become the first woman U.S. president, said her experiences as “a woman, a wife, a mother” would shape her campaign and influence her decisions if she reaches the Oval Office.

“I believe that my experiences and my qualifications uniquely equip me to hit the ground running in January 2009,” she said at a luncheon for Emily’s List, an influential group that helps Democratic women candidates who back abortion rights and has already endorsed Clinton.

“Together we can break that hardest and highest of all glass ceilings,” she told the women activists gathered to honor Nancy Pelosi, the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Clinton, who leads a crowded pack of Democratic White House contenders in early polls of the 2008 race, opened a “Women for Hillary” program that plans to use the Internet to enlist thousands of activists into a Women Leaders Network on behalf of her campaign.

The effort also will use high-profile and groundbreaking women to promote Clinton’s candidacy, including the first woman Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, the first woman vice presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro, and former tennis great Billie Jean King.

Women voters account for more than half of the American electorate and Clinton won more than 70 percent of the women’s vote in her runaway 2006 Senate re-election victory.

But Clinton has been pressed in polls by rival Barack Obama, a freshman Illinois senator, amid doubts among some Democrats about whether the former first lady is too polarizing to win a general election matchup with a Republican nominee.

“Guess what, I’m a woman, and I know it’s on people’s minds,” Clinton said at the luncheon. “To all those who say a woman cannot be elected president, I say ‘we’ll never know unless we try’ and that is what I am going to do in this campaign.”

Clinton said she would introduce legislation to ensure equal pay for women.

“I ask people to vote for me based on my entire life experience,” she said. “But the fact is, being a woman, a wife, a mother, having to work my way forward in the legal profession and politics, is a part of who I am,” she said.

“I will take that with me not only in the campaign but into the Oval Office,” she said.