By JoNel Aleccia
msnbc.com
updated 11/5/2008 1:54:13 AM ET 2008-11-05T06:54:13

Dottie Price’s voice was heavy with disappointment Tuesday night, moments after she listened to Sen. John McCain concede the presidential election to Barack Obama.

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But the Morehead City, N.C., Republican said she’d salvage some comfort from the hard-fought campaign in the form of historic role models it offered for her 17-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn.

“For my daughter, when she goes to vote for the first time, she won’t have any obstacles in her mind that a woman can be president,” said Price, 45, who is  studying to become a nurse. “She saw Hillary Clinton; she’s seen Sarah Palin. They’re there.”

Across the country, Obama’s victory was celebrated as a triumph for African-Americans and a repudiation, in many ways, of racism. But the race that featured the first woman to get close to a major party nomination and the second female tapped for the vice presidency will resonate in ways that previous generations could only imagine, political scientists and feminist scholars said.

“It’s amazing,” said Christine Sierra, a political science professor who researches Latino voting patterns at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. “This 2008 election is going to be studied for a number of years.”

And not necessarily in the ways one might think.

Palin: landmark figure?
While the selection of Palin sparked criticism of her folksy mannerisms and high-end wardrobe, the governor may become, in some ways, a landmark figure for future female candidates, said Astrid Henry, a visiting professor of gender and women’s studies at Grinnell College in Iowa.

First, Henry said, Palin may well be an example of feminist Bella Abzug’s observance: “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”

“This is a good example of that, that someone has been put out there, grilled and found wanting,” Henry said.

Eighty-one percent of Obama supporters and 16 percent of McCain supporters concluded that Palin was not qualified to become president if it became necessary, according to exit polls reported by NBC news.

At the same time, Palin was a sharp contrast with an older generation of female candidates, including Hillary Clinton and, perhaps, Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, who felt they had to downplay their femininity, their sexuality and their mothering ability to succeed.

“It’s apparent in the pantsuit vs. the pencil skirt,” said Henry, referring to the contrast between the trademark garb preferred by Clinton and Palin.

“Palin’s view was ‘I’m going to bring my sexuality, my motherhood and my work to the table,'” Henry said. “Will we see more women candidates of her generation who put their motherhood out there?”

Not all voters agreed with that assessment, however. Shari Veleba, 49, of Columbus, Ohio, admits she was very disappointed when Clinton didn’t win the nomination. But she threw herself into the Obama campaign, eventually volunteering to help the nominee win the crucial battleground state.

“Hillary’s participation inspired a lot of people,” observed Veleba, who works for a nonprofit agency that provides radio reading services for the blind.

“I think Sarah Palin used her sexuality in an opposite way. I think she used it in a way that women have fought to get away from: ‘I can get by on my looks.’”

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