Reporter's Notebook: The Gender Divide on Clinton

Of the many fascinating aspects of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, one of the most interesting is how men and women hear and react differently to her.

Now, I'm not a social scientist and I haven't even read "Women Are From Venus, Men Are From Mars," but I know Democratic strategists who support and oppose Hillary have given this subject considerable thought.

There are no hard and fast conclusions, and I don't know of any hard polling data (perhaps some exists that I've missed) that separates not only voter attitudes on an issue or candidate but how overall impressions are driven by the different ways women and men process answers to form support or opposition to Hillary.

I stumbled upon a veritable laboratory to test this question in Amana, Iowa, when I met Richie and Elizabeth Gnida of Iowa City.

Elizabeth is a former teacher and Richie is a former coach and school administrator. They recently moved from New York to Iowa City. While in New York, both voted for Clinton in her first campaign for the Senate.

Even so, neither came to Amana sold on her candidacy for president.

Richie, a 66-year-old first-generation Polish immigrant, was angry with Hillary on immigration.

"I'm opposed to any illegal immigration, letting them in here for nothing," Richie told me. He likened giving a driver's license to an illegal as something like "amnesty."

As for Clinton's position on the issue in last Tuesday's debate, Richie said he felt the Democratic frontrunner was needlessly evasive.

"There were too many variables," Richie said. "When I was an administrator all my teachers told me I was too black and white on issues."

Elizabeth, 57, then chimed in: "That's the way he always is. Black and white. When I heard Hillary's answer on immigration, I accepted that. That's the gray in things, I thought. Nothing is ever black and white."

That, in a nutshell, is the difference in the way Democratic strategists (and if Hillary wins the nomination, an increasing number of GOP strategists too) see women and men reacting differently to the same Hillary answer.

Women tend to accept and identify nuanced approaches to issues while men tend to seek concrete pronouncements (this is not a news flash to any married couple).

When I asked Richie what he thought of Clinton's debate answer on driver's licenses for illegals, he said: "I just didn't think she answered it. She fudged with the answer."

Then I asked Elizabeth her reaction to Hillary's answer and the subsequent criticism she received from fellow Democrats on stage.

"I just thought to myself, 'How would I answer the question?'" And I listened and I thought she was in a real spot there. And then I thought the whole thing was a set-up that night."

The husband-wife difference on Hillary and immigration now firmly established, let me note that I conducted this interview before Clinton arrived in town. Richie and Liz waved off Clinton volunteers trying to press them to fill out supporter cards for future caucus mobilization. They declared themselves undecided.

After the Hillary event, we met and a few things had changed.

First, Hillary gave a lengthy answer on immigration that I will summarize thusly: A. The nation can't deport 12 million people, B. Illegals work hard and don't break laws (deport those who don't), C. Businesses that hire illegals often exploit them and must be punished, and D). Secure the boarder but give illegals here now a multi-year path to citizenship.

Afterward, Richie was more inclined to side with Clinton.

"On immigration, I liked the things she said. It's a two-sided issue. You certainly can't throw 12 million people out. I'm not ready to vote for her, but she certainly does care about the country. Do I see the issue less black and white now? Yes. Absolutely."

Elizabeth now counted herself among the converted. After filling out a Clinton supporter card she said: "She just needs to be given a chance to answer that question. I thought she was so personable. She doesn't seem aloof. I have always said she was capable of being president and now I'm saying I want her to be president."

Richie and Elizabeth Gnida can't explain everything about immigration, Clinton or the future of the Iowa caucuses. But they give us a window into the ways two people with similar world views react differently to a hot-button issue like immigration and Clinton's now famous debate-night approach. They also show us how subtly attitudes can shift and how one-on-one exposure can alter the political terrain, one couple, one household at a time.