“There was a thump, thump,” said Jackie Stern Bellowe, 58, a Denver doctor and enthusiastic Clinton supporter, referring to her own heart. “I’m a physician who has spent an awful lot of time in big meetings with a lot of men. And there is a huge glass ceiling in medicine.”
Yet Judy Kowal, 71, a Chicago retiree and Sanders supporter who said she would vote for Mrs. Clinton in November, sounded unmoved. “I think it’s wonderful” that a woman will be at the top of the ticket, Ms. Kowal said. “I just wish it was a different woman.”
And in a year in which presidential politics has taken an extremely negative turn — with both Mrs. Clinton and the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, viewed unfavorably by most Americans — some voters, even those who back Mrs. Clinton, were left feeling dispirited.
“I think that if she does win, as the first female president, she will kind of represent all women, and she has her flaws, as we all know,” said Nicole Lee, 22, a painter and waitress from Richmond, Va., who voted for Mrs. Clinton in her state’s Democratic primary. “It’s also sad that her reputation kind of entails everything that happened with her husband, which is a bummer. And of course that would only happen to a woman.”
Before Tuesday, many admirers of Mrs. Clinton were perplexed that the prospect of the first female president had not caused anything like the national soul-searching, cultural heat or political exhilaration produced by Barack Obama eight years ago.
But unlike Mr. Obama, who catapulted onto the national stage as a virtual political unknown in 2004 and snatched the party’s presidential nomination from Mrs. Clinton four years later, Mrs. Clinton is the most scrutinized woman in American politics. On Wednesday, comparisons between the two were inevitable.
“Eight years ago, I thought that would be the greatest moment,” said Shakila Forbes, 25, a recent graduate of Clark Atlanta University, who is African-American. “But now I feel like Hillary Clinton running for president is the greatest, and it’s just like, what is there to come after this? America just keeps surprising me.”
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But Vicki Hutchins, an Atlanta insurance agent who is black, said she found more meaning in Mr. Obama’s achievement. And like many voters, she lamented a campaign consumed more by sound bites and quarrels than by policies, people and history. On Twitter, some black women adopted a hashtag to express their ambivalence: #GirlIGuessImWithHer.
“I think people are excited about a woman being nominated, but I think politics right now has become very circuslike, and it has taken away from the sanctity of it,” said Ms. Hutchins, who gave her age as “40-ish.” Of Mr. Obama’s election, she said, “That was one for our race and one for all that our people have faced in history.”
Despite strong support among older women, some others do not see Mrs. Clinton as a transformative figure for her gender, because they regard her as a Clinton first, a perennial politician second and a woman third.
The novelty of a female president is also not what it once was. The election of women as presidents and prime ministers in Britain, Germany, India and other countries decreases the impact of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy, and many younger American women were raised to believe that they could achieve anything and that a woman was sure to be president someday. And some supporters said there was fear that focusing on Mrs. Clinton’s gender could be politically dangerous, possibly alienating some men and handing a weapon to Mr. Trump.
“The worry has been, don’t discuss the ‘first woman president’ idea because it might provoke a backlash,” said Donna Brazile, a veteran Democratic strategist. “It’s almost like we’re in a no-praise zone, and it’s weird, because we’ve had 230 years of presidential history and no one can say that Clinton’s candidacy isn’t historic.”
For many women who never thought they would live to see a female president, Tuesday may have been a night for celebrating, but the true test will come in November. Some said the moment’s import was amplified by the fact that Mrs. Clinton’s opponent is Mr. Trump, a candidate with a combative alpha-male style who has already attacked her husband’s sexual history, mocked women’s looks and engaged in acerbic feuds with women from Rosie O’Donnell to Megyn Kelly.
“To me, the White House is still the ultimate treehouse with a big sign on it that says, ‘No Girls Allowed,’ ” said Patricia Schroeder, a former Colorado congresswoman who considered a run for the Democratic nomination in 1988. “If we could pull down that sign, it would make such a difference.”
And for women who have been dissected and debated in the public spotlight for years, there is undeniable excitement. Barbra Streisand, the singer, actress and longtime Democrat, wrote in an email that as Americans focused on the stark contrast between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, she was confident that “the pride in electing the first woman president of the United States will be recognized as the historical milestone it will be.”
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Polls show that most Americans believe the nation is ready for a female president. In March 2008, 61 percent of registered voters thought the nation was “ready to elect a black president,” according to a CBS News poll, while this February, a CNN survey of registered voters found that 80 percent believed it was “ready for a female president.”
Outside the White House on Wednesday, Buck Johnson, 26, a Republican from New Jersey who leads tours in Washington and called himself “kind of a feminist, “ said it had felt historic when Mr. Obama became the first black president.
“I think that African-Americans have been persecuted a lot more,” said Mr. Johnson, who is white. “Whereas I guess, a woman president, it just seems — I don’t know, women are 50 percent of the population.”
Surveys have also shown that most voters do not view Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy as special. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll in April found that 71 percent of voters thought it would not be long before other women became major-party presidential nominees, while only 24 percent said it was unlikely to occur again soon.
Still, Nichola Gutgold, a professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University who writes about women in politics, saw significance in this moment. Walking around campus Wednesday, Professor Gutgold said she kept bumping into people who wanted to talk about it.
“I think there is this little bit of exuberance,” said Professor Gutgold, who, in a stroke of good timing, is signing her new children’s book, “Madam President,” on Saturday at a bookstore that Mrs. Clinton frequents in Chappaqua, N.Y. “Even from people who won’t support her, I still think people are saying, ‘It’s about time.’ ”
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