Democratic Candidates Vie for Female Vote

With Sen. Hillary Clinton making the first serious bid for the presidency by a woman in history, it would stand to reason that women make up a big part of her support base. But that has not deterred the efforts of other Democratic candidates from trying to make inroads with female voters.

Clinton recently hosted a rally aimed specifically at young women in Washington, D.C., where she made a special appeal to voters under 30.

Organizers said 8,000 turned out to watch a veritable who's who of powerful women — from former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro to tennis great Billie Jean King to former Secretary of State Madeline Albright exhort other females to "make history."

"We know a lot about how women talk to one another about what's important," says Ann Lewis, Clinton's campaign senior adviser and director of women's outreach. "We don't use political jargon, we don't use rhetoric, we do talk about what we care about."

Lewis says the campaign is asking its female supporters to personally reach out to other women telling them "what Hillary's doing and why its so important."

The other democratic candidates aren't just twiddling their thumbs. Betsy Myers is chief operating officer and chairwoman of Women for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. She says they are seeing increased numbers of women at Obama's fundraisers, and 60 percent of their online participants are women.

Myers says the Obama campaign's outreach includes a variety of strategies, including forums, rallies, and having his wife, Michelle engage women at various events.

Myers says the campaign has a specific budget for appealing to women, though she declined to share it. She also says the campaign is working to appeal to women of color because Obama's support among African Americans.

Some candidates, like former Sen. John Edwards, are taking the tack that women shouldn't be treated as a separate entity.

"John Edwards' campaign treats people as people across the board rather than as demographic groups," explains Senior Campaign Adviser Kate Michelman.

Michelman acknowledges that there is a Women for Edwards component, and that Edwards discusses women-centric issues like health care and equal pay. But she says the last thing women want is for people to assume that they are monolithic and will all vote for a female candidate.

"Women voters are going to be looking at the candidate's views, the candidate's values, the kind of person the candidate is, and where the candidate wants to take this country," Michelman says.

Smaller operations, like those of Sen. Chris Dodd and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, say their candidates have done events aimed at engaging women. But Kucinich's wife, Elizabeth, says her husband's campaign is all-inclusive.

"If you carve off women away from men or men away from women, you are actually negating the very message you are trying to put out there," she says.

Nonpartisan women's groups like Mom's Rising and Women's Voices Women's Vote — a group for unmarried women — are hoping this presidential race puts women's issues squarely on the national political stage.

But many women who attended the Clinton rally, like Susan Barnarak of Fairfax, Va., brought their daughters.

"I think it's a really important milestone, not just for the public but for women as well, especially for young ladies to see what's possible and to hear what she stands for," Barnarak says.

Her 10-year-old daughter, Rachel, was wearing an "I can be president" button.



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