A majority of women have chosen the winner in five of the last seven U.S. presidential elections.  And since 1980, women have voted at higher rates than men in presidential contests.  This year, there is a woman among the leaders vying for the Democratic Party nomination.  In the first primary election, women proved to be a deciding factor, a trend analysts are watching as states vote separately in selecting the nominee.   Alex Villarreal reports.

American women have outvoted men in every election since 1964. It is a right their ancestors fought for decades to earn.  Now, nearly 90 years after the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave them that right, women are a critical campaign target group. 

Democratic political strategist Peter Fenn says, "The old joke was ? women vote the way their husbands told them to vote. Well, that doesn't happen anymore. And now, of course, the majority of voters are women."

Women make up a majority of those who consider themselves Democrats -- 58 percent in one recent national survey.  It is a factor that favored Senator Hillary Clinton in the early days of the campaign.

Exit polls showed Clinton emerged as the surprise winner in the New Hampshire primary because of the greater-than-expected female turnout. 

A Gallup poll showed Senator Barack Obama pulling ahead of Clinton, even among women, in the days before the primary election. But in the survey, 46 percent of women said they voted for Clinton, while only 34 percent said they chose Obama

Founder of American University's Women and Politics Institute, Karen O'Connor, says Clinton's New Hampshire success depended upon women. "You can never underestimate the importance of one-to-one contact.  New Hampshire was more one-to-one contact than even Iowa was,? she says. ?So what you ended up with ? the campaign really focusing on women's votes, because without them, Hillary Clinton cannot win."

Clinton's unique appeal is that she is the first viable woman candidate to run for president. "There is this sense of breaking the glass ceiling,? says Peter Fenn. ?And you know, I think there's a lot of pride in that."

Many women say they do feel pride, but their opinions on Clinton are mixed.  Part of this division is generational.  Political analysts say older women tend to support Clinton.

 "I know who is best qualified to be president and that's Hillary,? says one woman, while another adds, "I think she has compassion of what we women and what we mothers have gone through, because too many men have walked off and left us mothers with boys and girls the family to take care of."

Younger women are often among the enthusiasts at Obama rallies.  Fenn says they are inspired by Obama's message of change.

One young woman reinforced that point. "My first instinct was that I would support Hillary. She's a woman and this is something that is really important to me. But the message of Obama has really touched me."

Whether for Clinton or against her, many women say they base their decisions on much more than what she symbolizes. "I can't say that I would vote for her just on the basis of being a woman," said a voter we spoke with recently.

And Clinton says that is exactly what she wants. "Neither race nor gender should be a part of this campaign," she said.

But with the huge turnout of women in New Hampshire, gender has already had a major impact on the race.