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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Hillary Worked for Goldwater?

Q: Did Hillary Clinton work for Goldwater?

A: She was a high-school Young Republican and "Goldwater Girl" in 1964 but swung to supporting Democrat Eugene McCarthy’s campaign in 1968 and George McGovern’s in 1972.


"I wasn’t born a Democrat," Hillary Rodham Clinton writes on page one of her autobiography, "Living History."

She grew up in Park Ridge, Ill., a Republican suburb of Chicago, and describes her father, Hugh Rodham Jr., as a "rock-ribbed, up-by-your-bootstraps, conservative Republican and proud of it" (page 11). Her 9th-grade history teacher was also a very conservative Republican who encouraged her to read Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater’s 1960 book, "Conscience of a Conservative," which inspired Clinton to write a term paper on the American conservative movement.

Hillary Clinton ("Living History," page 21): I was also an active Young Republican and, later, a Goldwater girl, right down to my cowgirl outfit and straw cowboy hat emblazoned with the slogan "AuH20." … I liked Senator Goldwater because he was a rugged individualist who swam against the political tide.

Goldwater is remembered for saying, in his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president in 1964, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice … and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." He lost to President Lyndon Johnson in a landslide, eking out only 38.5 percent of the popular vote.

Clinton writes that she began to have doubts about Goldwater’s politics even before she left high school, when a teacher forced her to play President Johnson during a mock presidential debate in order to "learn about issues from the other side" (page 24). Later, as a junior at Wellesley College, she writes, "I had gone from being a Goldwater Girl to supporting the anti-war campaign of Eugene McCarthy," driving to New Hampshire on weekends to stuff envelopes and walk precincts (pages 32-33). Even so, she also worked as a Washington, D.C., intern for Gerald Ford, who was then the Republican leader of the House, and she attended the 1968 Republican convention to work for New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s unsuccessful effort to get the GOP presidential nomination (pages 34-35).

At Yale Law School, however, she completed her transformation from Goldwater Republican to liberal Democrat. At Yale, she met Marian Wright Edelman and helped in her investigations of the Nixon administration. She also met Bill Clinton, and in 1972 joined him in Austin, Texas, where they both worked for George McGovern’s campaign. There, she writes, "I quickly made some of the best friends I’ve ever had" (page 58).

-Brooks Jackson