Are Women Torn Between Obama and Clinton?
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting today from the Knight Studio at the Newseum, Washington, D.C.'s newest museum devoted to journalism and the news business, just off the National Mall. Three primaries left, a guaranteed delegate lead for Senator Obama, and some new endorsements. And the first skirmish of the general election. It's time for another edition of the Political Junkie.
Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
Former Representative GERALDINE FERRARO (Democrat, New York): My name is Geraldine Ferraro.
Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, "Where's the Beef?"
Former President RICHARD NIXON: You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty.
(Soundbite of applause)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.
(Soundbite of Howard Dean scream)
CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin will bring us up-to-date on primaries in Kentucky and Oregon, the endgame for the Democrats, and the last three primaries. A little bit later, we'll talk about how the issue of gender and the campaign lives on even as Senator Clinton's campaign falters, but as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Ken Rudin is with us here at the Newseum. Hi, Ken.
KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.
CONAN: And what's the trivia question this morning?
RUDIN: Well, since we're talking about gender in today's show, what woman won the most - now, of course, Hillary Clinton has won over 16 million votes in the primaries, obviously more than any other woman in history. She's won, as of now, according to NPR's count, 1,779 delegates. So until 2008, what woman won the most votes in presidential primaries, what woman had the largest percentage of votes in the primaries, and which woman received the most delegates at the conventions in history?
CONAN: A three-part trivia question this week.
RUDIN: The hint, the answer is a woman.
CONAN: The answer is a woman, every single time. So if you think you know what woman won the most votes in presidential primaries prior to Senator Clinton, which woman had the largest percentage of the primary vote, and which woman received the most delegates, give us a call, 800-989-8255, or zap us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. And Ken, we'll get to Kentucky and Oregon in a minute, but let's start with the news about Senator Ted Kennedy. There is a diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor.
RUDIN: Yeah, it basically captured everybody's attention yesterday, Democrats and Republicans alike, everybody all over the country, obviously. He had been referred to over and over again as a lion in the Senate. He's been in there since 1962, a liberal icon, and again, had the respect of both sides of the aisle. He left Massachusetts General Hospital today on his own. He smiled. He did not answer questions. First of all, nobody knows how far the tumor has spread, and what kind of treatment he's going to take.
CONAN: In the meantime, he's the chair of a couple of important committees, and there's some legislation that you would generally think would need Senator Kennedy's hand if it's going to make it out of committee and on to the Senate floor.
RUDIN: And that's about so many different issues, from every possible subject, and as a matter of fact, the Senate has been slowing down its work because of Kennedy's absence. He obviously, since he suffered a seizure on Saturday, the Senate has been kind of a stop, waiting to see what's going to happen.
CONAN: Well, on, then, to electoral politics, and two primaries last night, a split decision. Big wins for each of the candidates, yet with time and numbers of delegates available running out, a victory overall for Senator Obama.
RUDIN: True, but both primaries gave a very clear message, a very interesting message. Yes, Barack Obama did go over the majority of the pledged delegates. Of all the delegates available in primaries and caucuses, Barack Obama has received more than half. It's almost a mathematical impossibility that he can lose the Democratic nomination.
But at the same time, Hillary Clinton won the Kentucky primary by over 200,000 votes. It follows a blowout she had a week before in West Virginia, a similar landslide in Pennsylvania. And there are questions about whether Barack Obama, should he be the nominee, could he assemble the kind of coalition or at least the kind of votes that Hillary Clinton has been getting in the primaries?
CONAN: Nevertheless, he looks more and more certain that he's going to get the opportunity to find out.
RUDIN: And not only that, you can see it, because if you noticed that, where'd he spend yesterday? Not in Oregon, which he won, but in Iowa. Basically, he was saying it was a full circle. He won the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd. He basically came full circle and tried to - I mean, this is really from nowhere.
A year ago, we were saying how Hillary Clinton was the inevitable nominee, how she was going to take on the Republicans. And nobody ever saw Barack Obama defeating her, let alone being the nominee. And you can see that how he has been responding to George Bush and John McCain, talking about a Bush-McCain ticket, and how he's responding to words about appeasement, foreign policy lobbyists. Obviously, he's looking beyond the fight for the Democratic nomination, and looking to the general election.
CONAN: Well, we have some hopeful trivia answerers on the line, and let's see if we can go to Wes, and Wes is with from Minneapolis, and nice to have you on the program today, Wes.
WES (Caller): Same here. Actually I'm from Big Lake, right outside Minneapolis. But I'm going to say Shirley Chisholm.
CONAN: And Shirley Chisholm is the answer to which question?
WES: She won the most votes in a primary.
CONAN: And is that right, Ken?
RUDIN: That is correct, and what's so interesting about this is that Hillary Clinton got - has 16 million votes. The previous record by a female presidential candidate, Shirley Chisholm in 1972 on the Democratic side, 430,000 votes.
CONAN: So Wes, you win one-third of a no prize.
WES: Thank you so much, Neal. Enjoy the show.
CONAN: Thanks very much for calling. Let's see if we can go now to, this will be Mary, Mary with us from Leavenworth, in Kansas. Mary, you there?
MARY (Caller): Yes, I am.
CONAN: You get one phone call from Leavenworth, you're calling Ken Rudin?
MARY: I beg your pardon?
CONAN: I'm just making a joke. What's your answer to the trivia question?
MARY: It was Elizabeth Dole.
CONAN: Elizabeth Dole, is that?
RUDIN: No, actually, Elizabeth Dole, when she tried to run for president in the 2000 primary, she dropped out in 1999, didn't have the support, didn't have the money, which is true about many female candidates in both presidential and Senate elections. So she never even made it to the primary status - stage.
MARY: Oh, OK, so...
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Mary.
MARY: OK, thank you.
CONAN: So long, and let's see if Michael has the right answer, Michael's with us from Iowa City in Iowa.
MICHAEL (Caller): Hi, I think - I thought Shirley Chisholm had the most delegates as well.
RUDIN: That's correct as well, Shirley Chisholm again. Hillary Clinton now has 1,779. Shirley Chisholm at the '72 convention had 101 delegates. She was an African-American congresswoman from Brooklyn, first black woman ever elected to Congress, in 1968. And she has the most primary votes, the most delegates in history. But who has the highest percentage of primary votes? That may be a tougher question to answer.
CONAN: Michael, again, one-third of a no prize to you.
MICHAEL: The highest percentage of primary voters, well, I don't know. If it's not Shirley Chisholm, Elizabeth Dole never actually, I think, got to a vote, so I don't know the answer, I don't think.
CONAN: All right, well, thanks very much. You got a third of it right.
MICHAEL: You bet, third of no prize. Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: OK, bye-bye.
RUDIN: Well, he does get the ottoman, but not the love seat.
CONAN: And here's an email reply from Brad, in Stockton, California - excuse me, San Francisco, California. And he says, is it Lenora Fulani?
RUDIN: No, because we're talking about primary votes, so Lenora Fulani basically ran as a third party candidate in 1996, 2000, more of a third party than a Democrat, although she was a Democrat. But the answer is not Lenora Fulani. I can give you the answer if we run out of calls.
CONAN: All right, well, let's give you a hint. It was a Republican.
RUDIN: It was a Republican.
CONAN: All right, moving right along. There have been some important endorsements for Senator Obama - well, John Edwards, since we last spoke on this program, but also today, the United Mine Workers Union endorsed Senator Obama.
RUDIN: Yeah, and it's interesting that even though Hillary Clinton has been winning some big victories, and we saw that on April 22nd in Pennsylvania when she won by nine or 10 points. Even still, the superdelegates have been going his way. So for all the - you know, you see her giving the victory speeches, she's saying, I'm going to win this nomination. I'll be stronger against John McCain in November. And yet, inevitably, the number of delegates and number of endorsements, as you say John Edwards, NARAL, the abortion rights group.
RUDIN: Went to Barack Obama, and so it's a sign that, if nothing else, it's his nomination to lose.
CONAN: We should talk about that NARAL.
RUDIN: We will. I think we will.
CONAN: All right. Anyway, there's the first skirmish, you mentioned Senator Obama really embarking on a general election swing - Iowa last night, Florida today - and engaged in a skirmish not just with the president, who made some remarks that he took exception to while he was on his visit to the Middle East, but with Senator McCain on the issue of appeasement.
RUDIN: Right. That's a very interesting word in political jargon, was used against George McGovern in 1972, it was used against Republicans in 1940 when they were talking about whether - appeasing Adolph Hitler.
CONAN: It was used against Neville Chamberlain.
RUDIN: The great basketball player, right. So in other words, it's a real - it's a word that's been around in political discourse, for better or for worse, for a long time. And again, you saw President Bush use it against, by inference, Barack Obama during his speech last week before the Israeli Knesset.
CONAN: And it's been used in the past as a sort of code word for soft on Communism. In this context, it seems to be a code word for inexperience.
RUDIN: Well, the Democratic Party, at least since 1972, has had the disadvantage, at least in the public eye, of being weaker on national security, on defense. Nixon used it very effectively against McGovern on Vietnam. And of course, Hillary Clinton used it against Barack Obama as well. For all the times you're going to hear Republicans, John McCain, talking about Barack Obama's naivete, inexperience, it's really out of the Hillary Clinton playbook, because that's exactly what she said throughout the primary season.
CONAN: And interesting, as we've seen the rise of the opposition research and the quick-response teams, Senator Obama's people did not let that word lie there for very long before they were out with a response.
RUDIN: Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, if we're talking about who has gained by the American intervention in Iraq, obviously everybody agrees that Iran is stronger than ever. And Barack Obama says for me - to call me an appeaser, because I want to meet with these world leaders, well, it was George Bush's policies, backed by John McCain, who basically made Iran the threat it is now, more of a threat than it's ever been in its history.
CONAN: And to follow up from last week's exciting episode, Vito Fossella, the Republican congressman from Staten Island in New York, got caught in first a drunk-driving incident, then learned that indeed he was visiting his daughter in Alexandria, just not the daughter he had with his wife, but the one he had with his girlfriend. And he has now elected not to run for the election.
RUDIN: Well, we say this all the time, the Republican Party is a pro-family party, and just so happens that Vito Fossella had two families.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: But it's another - there's been bad news for the Republican Party. In special House elections, we saw them lose one last week in Mississippi, and before that Louisiana, And before that, Dennis Hastert's seat in Illinois, and this is another seat that the Republicans - I mean, it was going to be a close contest anyway, but Vito Fossella was somebody they were talking about the next Republican mayor of New York. Obviously his career is over.
CONAN: And here's another email suggestion to the third trivia question. Jeane Kirkpatrick is the answer, according to Dennis in - I'm not sure where Dennis is from. But anyway...
RUDIN: No, actually, Jeane Kirkpatrick was a hopeful in 1988, but she never ran. A lot of Republicans, a lot of Jack Kemp supporters would have loved for her to run, but she did not run.
CONAN: And let's see if George has the answer. George is calling from Tallahassee in Florida.
GEORGE (Caller): Hey, Neal. Could it have been Margaret J. Smith in 1964?
RUDIN: That is the correct answer.
CONAN: There you have it.
(Soundbite of applause)
RUDIN: Three-point-eight percent. She got 224,000 votes but again, the most of any Republican female in history, 3.8 percent.
CONAN: Well, congratulations, George.
GEORGE: Thank you.
CONAN: Don't spend that no-prize all in one place.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GEORGE: You got it.
CONAN: All right, bye-bye. We're live at the Knight Studio at the Newseum here in Washington, D.C. When we come back, we'll look again at the gender dynamics of the Democratic race with representatives from two prominent women's groups. And we'll take your calls, 800-989-8255. You can also send us email. That address is email@example.com, and check out what other listeners have to say at our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan, broadcasting today from the Knight Studio inside the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Senator Hillary Clinton's historic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination made a lot of women believe that they would see a female president in their lifetime. But while she vows to fight on, realistic chances of victory are dwindling, and her campaign has suffered some major defections from the women's movement.
Most recently, Senator Barack Obama won the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a prominent reproductive rights movement. In response, the president of EMILY's List, which helps elect female candidates in favor of abortion rights, called the endorsement a betrayal. The disagreement between the two groups embodies a debate about loyalty, feminism, gender and race that's been going on throughout this campaign, one that's gone on among women all over the country.
Today, we'll talk with representatives from both NARAL and EMILY's List. We'd also like to hear from women in our audience. How did gender effect how you thought about the Democratic candidates? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can read what other listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is still with us here. But Elizabeth Shipp is the political director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and she's with us here in the Newseum. Nice to have you with us today.
Ms. ELIZABETH SHIPP (Political Director, NARAL Pro-Choice America): Thanks so much.
CONAN: And Ramona Oliver is communications director for EMILY's List, also with us here at the Newseum. Thanks very much for coming in.
Ms. RAMONA OLIVER (Communications Director, EMILY's List): Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: And Elizabeth, why did NARAL endorse Senator Obama last week?
Ms. SHIPP: Well, we were actually very excited to endorse Senator Barack Obama for president last week because he is a fully pro-choice candidate. And we firmly believe, based on all the markers that you look at when you look at success in a campaign, especially in this campaign, he leads in pledged delegates, superdelegate, cash on hand, popular vote. And so we looked at the full spectrum and said that he is likely going to be the nominee to face John McCain. And we know that we need to start communicating about how anti-choice John McCain is right now. So we are comparing Barack Obama to John McCain.
CONAN: And Ramona, as we mentioned, EMILY's List, the president called this a betrayal. How come?
Ms. OLIVER: Well, actually, she didn't call it a betrayal. She felt it was disrespectful to Senator Clinton, who has gone to the mat again and again on behalf of reproductive rights, who sat on the FDA commissioner nomination until Plan B was made available for women, who has fought so valiantly on these issues. I think in the end - I mean, NARAL and EMILY's List have far more in common, and I think our disagreement centers more on timing than on substance. We see nothing to fear for having this process play out to the end.
And you know, we have three more primaries, three more weeks. We have received - seen an embarrassment of riches from this primary process. I mean, if you think back to all those states that were so upset that they weren't going to count because their primaries weren't going to be early enough. To think that every single primary, every single vote, is counting so much in this process, it's just a tremendous gain.
And we've also seen, you know, energy and turnout and excitement at levels just unprecedented. I mean, women have turned out - at some points they've increased their share of the electorate anywhere from two to seven points. InOhio, women were 60 percent of the electorate. And that's a huge boon for Democrats moving into the general.
CONAN: Was this, Elizabeth, a difficult decision for NARAL?
Ms. SHIPP: Look, I will say this. We respect and admire Senator Clinton very much, and Ramona touched upon all the wonderful things she has done for the choice movement. We really looked at viability in this race. Both of these candidates are fully pro-choice. Both of them have done tremendous things - when we were facing a ban in South Dakota, Senator Obama was the one senator who stood with us, and who publicly raised money for us, and spoke out against that ban. He's the author of the legislation for the pricing fix that we need for birth control because low-income women can't access it right now.
So, we looked at both of their records. I would say that yes, it's certainly difficult when you're looking at history. But we're looking at history on both sides here. You know, the first woman president, the first African-American president. And what we kept going back to was the mission of NARAL. And unlike our friends at EMILY's List, who support Democratic pro-choice women, NARAL Pro-Choice America supports men and women and people, regardless of party, as long as they are fully pro-choice. So all of that went into the discussion about when we should endorse and who we should endorse.
CONAN: And let me ask you, Ramona Oliver. I expect this is not going to be a difficult decision for EMILY's List once the candidate has been decided.
Ms. OLIVER: Yes. We have been working - I mean, in addition to the presidential, we have literally dozens of women across the country who arerunning for office. That is going to continue to be a focus of ours. But we also are very focused in turning out women voters in the general election. And whoever the nominee is. I mean, EMILY's List ran one of the largest programs to get women who wouldn't ordinarily vote, in the midterms last cycle, to turn out and vote.
So that's going to be a key part of what we do. And anyone who wants to win an election, whether you're running for president or Congress or state house, needs to make their case to women voters. And I think one of the biggest positives that we've seen out of this entire discussion and debate is the recognition of the strength, and the importance of women voters in this process.
RUDIN: Ramona, obviously you've seen the exit polls that show, and of course Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are in the middle of a very tough, personal battle for the nomination. But you have seen exit polls that just came out of Kentucky yesterday that said that only a third of Hillary Clinton's supporters would support Barack Obama in November. Do you make much of these polls? And of course, they're in the middle of a tough campaign, but are you nervous at all about getting, if Obama were the nominee, are you nervous about Clinton supporters coming onboard?
Ms. OLIVER: Well, I think, as I said, anyone who wants to win office needs to make their case to women, and you're talking about two groups of women. The women who make up the largest share of the Democratic base, a lot of whom are very frustrated by the sexism and the treatment of Senator Clinton by the media, in particular. And then you also have women who make up the majority of the swing vote, a lot of those women in the rural areas and suburban areas. And we've got a - Democrats have got to come together and make that case. And I think we can. I mean, there's going to - as Ellen was describing it the other day...
RUDIN: Ellen Malcolm?
Ms. OLIVER: Yes, Ellen Malcolm, our president, was describing the other day, you know, whoever wins, whoever loses, their supporters will go through sort of a process of anger and grief, but we'll come through that. And we always have. And then we'll focus on winning back the White House. But I think women are going to be critical. But yeah, there is a lot of anger, I think, and frustration amongst Clinton supporters, particularly, I think, directed at the media.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Kay, Kay's with us from Syracuse, New York.
KAY (Caller): Thank you so much. As I'm listening to the conversation, really the hair's standing up all over my arms and the back of my neck. I mean, it's such an electrifying race. As a lifelong feminist, I've been since I graduated from college in 1972 where, by the way, I heard Shirley Chisholm speak at the College of William and Mary, a very conservative place, and I thought the house was going to come apart. People just went crazy. She gave one of the best speeches I've ever heard in my life.
But Senator Clinton is one of my, I mean, obviously, one of my two senators. And when I went to vote in the primary, it's the hardest decision I think I have ever had to make, certainly politically, between Obama and Clinton. And I eventually chose Obama, which was really, really hard. I went to the polls. I walked in, I chatted with my pals. I mean, I know everybody. I'm from a rural area outside of Syracuse, New York. I finally said, you know what? I've got to go get groceries and come back. I can't make my mind up. And I came back a second time and I finally voted for what I think is really going to be huge change in our political system, but it was really hard.
But I think as a feminist, that's what feminism has always been about - is being able to make a choice and for women to be part of the decision. And you know, I'm just thrilled to have lived to see the day when a woman and a person of color are Democrat's two leading candidates. And by the way, she's not that far behind. Let's not forget that.
CONAN: Yes, if she does lose she will be the candidate with the most delegates, the most votes, and the most states won ever, to lose a nomination.
KAY: Quite amazing. Quite amazing. Well, thank you so much for discussion. I'm going to jump off and listen to you on air.
CONAN: OK. Thanks for the call, Kay.
KAY: Thank you.
CONAN: And I wonder, you, Ramona, you were nodding as Kay was talking. I think some of the difficulties that she had in making up her decision. Well, I think a lot of women have these difficulties.
Ms. OLIVER: Yeah, I think it is a wonderful problem to have, to be able to be faced with a choice between two really strong, wonderful candidates - both of whom would make history, both of whom would break down barriers that have been in place for centuries, and never see those barriers rise again. You know, personally for me it's extremely exciting. I mean, you know, no matter which way it goes. I think that she made a very - the caller made just such a wonderful point, that feminism is about women being part of the decision making and being at the table. That's what EMILY's List is about, is about making sure that women's voices are at the table.
CONAN: There was an opportunity, though, this year for women to be the decisive factor in a race, to vote as a bloc to create a woman candidate for president of the United States, and has an opportunity been squandered, do you think?
Ms. OLIVER: I think not at all. I mean, women have been the most consistent base of support for Senator Clinton throughout this process. I think that the long-term impact of the new women, young women, older women, just the large increase of women engaging in the political process, is something that's never going to reverse itself. You know, the gender gap has existed since Reagan, and it has helped Democrats, because it leans towards - the gender gap leans towards Democrats - for a long time win office. Women drive change, whether it's in their community, it's in Congress, or hopefully in the White House.
CONAN: Here's an email from Corey in Princeton, New Jersey. I worry that NARAL's endorsement will further alienate Hillary's base from Barack Obama since many of her supporters feel betrayed. She's been on the scene far longer than Barack. The endorsement should have waited until the nominee is clearly declared. Elizabeth, can you help us get an insight into your thinking? Because that same point must have occurred to you.
Ms. SHIPP: Certainly, and everybody is definitely entitled to their opinion, and certainly we have heard from a lot of people, both positive and negative. We do have some of the first-wave feminists who are very upset with us, and we get that, we understand that. But we also know that Barack Obama has brought about 2.5 million new voters into this process. We know that those core demographics that NARAL communicates with, which are Independent and Republican pro-choice women, a lot of them have switched parties to be able to vote for Barack Obama in this election. So we've seen huge crossover among party affiliation.
We've seen a whole - millions of new voters coming into this process. And so we looked at that as well. We looked at who does NARAL communicate with. And we know that for the future of the choice movement, frankly, we need more people in this process. We need men and women. We need Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We need people from red states and blue states. And so the kind of message that Barack Obama is delivering to people all across this country, about change, and about uniting as opposed to dividing people, is something that certainly was important to NARAL's PAC when it was discussing this endorsement.
CONAN: We're talking with Elizabeth Shipp, the political director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Ramona Oliver, the communications director for EMILY's List. Of course, Ken Rudin, our political junkie, is also with us. And you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. Ken?
RUDIN: Elizabeth, if everybody assumes, I think everybody agrees Barack Obama will be the nominee, everybody except Bill and Hillary. Now, if you - if you can make the case that if that's going to be the case, if Obama's going to be the nominee, why not wait the extra two weeks, three weeks? The argument that the Clinton campaign has said, about John Edwards' endorsement, about NARAL's endorsement, if she's about to get out June 3rd, June 4th anyway, why endorse when she's at this stage of her campaign? Why not give her that extra two weeks of respect?
Ms. SHIPP: You know, we're a political organization, and we make political decisions. And you've got to find what we call that special, unique time to get involved to have maximum impact. And we felt like the best time to start going after John McCain is now. We have seen the constant drumbeat about whether he is pro-choice or he's anti-choice. You know, Planned Parenthood, our sister organization, did a poll that said 49 percent of McCain's supporters are pro-choice, and that leads me to believe that they think he's pro-choice, too.
It's not enough to wait and wait and wait, and then finally jump into the process at - you know, when is it, is it after June 3rd, is it after, you know, July, is it after the convention? We felt that it was important for us to start communicating with that key group, that key swing group of Independent and Republican pro-choice women, and comparing and contrasting them to Barack Obama now.
And certainly, I need to stress this, we have so much respect and admiration for Senator Clinton, and certainly it was never our intent to make her feel bad about this. That was not why we did this. We did this because we think it's critically important, when you're looking at Supreme Court justices, when you're looking at John McCain saying that he actually wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, going farther than even George W. Bush, that the time to act is now. We cannot sit back and let the Republican Party define the eventual Democratic nominee.
CONAN: Let's get Sally on the line, Sally with us from Chicago. Hi, Sally, are you there?
SALLY (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Yes, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SALLY: Hi. I was just calling in to comment on - I'm a female voter that has been with the Democratic Party all of my life, and I will not be voting for Barack Obama in the fall. I will get a paper ballot and write in a candidate. The media has been so unfair to Hillary Clinton that I could not vote for him...
CONAN: Even, Sally, if that might help elect a Republican president?
SALLY: Well, I know. My - I have to vote the way I feel, and I think that Hillary Clinton has been treated so unfairly through the media. The sexism is rampant, is just rampant, and that's just the way I feel about it.
CONAN: Ramona ...
SALLY: And I will not change before the fall election.
CONAN: Ramona Oliver, Senator Clinton has herself been talking about some of these issues just in the past several days.
Ms. OLIVER: Yeah. I think Sally reflects a lot of the feelings that a lot of women and men have out there about the treatment of the media. The almost seeming nonchalance with which they throw around both blatant, and in some cases, fairly vicious sexist remarks, and to stuff that's more subtle but just as dismissive and diminishing. I mean - and it's nothing new. I mean, you know, any person who walks a path for the first time kicks up a lot of dust, particularly if they're walking in heels.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. OLIVER: And, you know, we've been working for 22 years to get women candidates elected. It's not the first time we've seen somebody try to diminish or dismiss a woman by talking about her outfit or her jewels or, you know - how relevant to the national discussion is whether or not a candidate prefers diamonds or pearls?
RUDIN: The cleavage comment.
Ms. OLIVER: Yeah, the cleavage comment. You know, we had a congressional candidate last cycle, her incumbent Republican opponent referred to her as just another pretty face. You know, this kind of dismissive, sexist commentary has been a part of not just women's experience in the political sphere, it's also in corporate life.
CONAN: Stay with us. We're going to continue talking about this issue when we come back from a short break. Our guests are Elizabeth Shipp of NARAL and Ramona Oliver of EMILY's List. NPR's political junkie, Ken Rudin, is also with us. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting from the Newseum, and this is NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Today we're talking about the intersection of gender and politics in the Clinton candidacy with Rebecca Oliver of EMILY's List, her group supports Senator Clinton; and with NARAL political director Elizabeth Shipp. NARAL recently endorsed Senator Obama. How did gender affect how your thought about the Democratic candidates? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com.
And I wanted to ask you, Ramona, when we talk about the women's vote in this race, we're almost exclusively talking about the white women's vote. It's almost assumed that the African-American women's vote is going to go 90-to-one to Senator Obama. Is that taking it for granted?
Ms. OLIVER: No, I don't think it's taken for granted, I mean, that's been the fact of the case. I mean, the majority of the African-American vote, most men and women, has gone to Senator Barack Obama, and - but it's not a hundred percent either way, for women supporting her or women supporting Senator Obama. I think it is very good that nobody is going to take women's votes for granted anymore.
I think that the anger that you see right now is very disturbing to Democrats. I mean, being concerned about having what is, you know, better than 50 percent of your base as the Democratic Party be so frustrated, as Sally had expressed earlier in her call, I think is something that Democrats will have to do some work on. But I also think that the swing vote, the moderate and Independent and Republican women that Beth talked about, are going to be a critical vote as well. And nobody wants to be taken for granted. I think that, you know, whoever is the nominee is going to have to make their case.
CONAN: Let's go to Kim, Kim's with us from Caspar in Wyoming.
KIM (Caller): Hi. Thank you so much. Gosh, I love your show. You and Ken are a great team when it comes to covering politics. I just want to know how the gals feel if Senator Obama, if he's the nominee, if he picks a male running mate? I'm afraid that's going to be the deal-breaker for me.
CONAN: Elizabeth Shipp, I guess that's to you.
Ms. SHIPP: You know, Senator Obama should choose the best person for the job. I would hope that he would consider women. I've heard nothing that says he's not going to consider women. I mean, when you look at some of the governors who are supporting him, whether it's Kathleen Sebelius from Kansas, Christine Gregoire from Washington, Janet Napolitano from Arizona, I mean, you have some really strong women there. Claire McCaskill is a really strong woman in the United States Senate from Missouri.
So I think that obviously he's not going to exclude women. I think they, you know, we have come to this point in American politics where I hope that it's not, it's not a second thought to, oh, my gosh, do we have to consider a woman? It's who's the best for the job, and women are definitely in that mix.
CONAN: But have we arrived at the point, Ramona Oliver, where the sex of the candidate doesn't matter?
Ms. OLIVER: I think it is very - to think that somebody would vote just on the sex, or the race, or the suit style of a candidate I think is very dismissive, and I think it underestimates the intelligence of the American public. They're much more sophisticated. They're much more concerned with issues like the economy and healthcare and ending the war. But there is a tremendous amount of excitement and energy behind both of these campaigns because of the gender of the candidate, or the race of the candidate. But I think that what matters is electing more women, bringing more women's voices into government, makes a difference.
I mean, for me, you know, my mother is ill. She lives at home with me because of Caroline Maloney, who is championing an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act so that people who have to care for elderly parents are able to take advantage of that act as well. That's an issue that I as a woman care deeply about, and she is a woman in Congress who is addressing that issue. Senator Clinton has fought on that issue as well. So it does make a difference to elect more women. But of course, voters aren't, you know, narrowly making their decision just based on gender.
CONAN: Kim, thanks very much for the call.
KIM: Thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email, this from Sarah in Minneapolis. As a young white woman with a background in women's and African-American studies, I think it's offensive that feminist groups don't recognize that Senator Clinton faced extremely similar challenges to those Senator Obama faced as a black man. Racism and sexism function similarly in this nation and the causes should band together. And I see you both nodding that both causes should band together.
MS. SHIPP: Yes, absolutely.
Ms. OLIVER: I mean, sexism is the last form of socially acceptable prejudice. I mean, you know, the level of abuse that Senator Clinton has suffered, particularly with the media, has just opened up a raw place, I think, in our American psyche and women are extremely angry about it. And I think anybody who underestimates that anger, and doesn't acknowledge it. I mean, can you sort of suffer through a backlash with an - you know, an unintentional comment? I mean, it's something that was supposed to be funny but the offense...
CONAN: Could we turn off the room with mikes on?
(Soundbite of laughter)
KEN RUDIN: I apologize. That was a silly thing. Sometimes I try to make lighter politics by having fun with it, but one thing I did learn about this is that words do matter and words do hurt and..
Ms. OLIVER: Yes.
RUDIN: You know, it's one thing, you know - to hear a racial comment thrown at Barack Obama, you know, you recoil and you shutter, but when you hear somebody yelling out as somebody did with Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, iron my shirt. I think there were even some snickers, giggling, and to me there's really no difference between a sexist comment and a racist comment, and yet there is seems to be more acceptance of the former...
Ms. OLIVER: Yes, you know, and just based on the number of times that MSNBC anchors have had to, you know, do public apologies for things, it's clearly a part of our sort of major network media. This isn't sort of extremist, you know, where people sort of off on the fringes.
RUDIN: But could we make the case, could we make the argument that Hillary Clinton was not the perfect vehicle, if that's the right word to use, in feminism and feminist candidacy because she had the detractors well before she run for president? A part of the Clinton years, the Bill Clinton years, I think there was a lot of animus towards her about her - well, we talked about calculations and her, you know, strategies and campaign apparatus and things like that, and the kind of attacks she would do against Barack Obama. We're not saying that Hillary Clinton lost because of sexist attacks.
Ms. OLIVER: No. No. I think sexism has a played a role in that it has been a prism through which the media has presented Hillary Clinton as a candidate. And you know political debate? Welcome to it. I mean, and you know discussion of political strategy? That's exactly what I do for a living. But there has clearly been you know, you don't have to be an advanced sociologist to see this, there has clearly been things that have been over the bounds.
Talking about Chelsea Clinton you know being pimped out. That, you know, that is over the bounds. And no matter who the woman is, if you are a senator of the United States, and you listen to a commentator call her Mrs. Clinton and call him Senator Obama. That is unbalanced, and I think that we've seen examples of that everywhere. And I think part of the problem is that you look on the Sunday news shows and you see five guys, all journalists, all talking to themselves, often the same demographic, all from the same sort of life experience, and trying to represent the world.
And you know, in 1992, people looked at the judiciary committee in the United States Senate, and they were seating there debating sexual harassment, and women across this country looked up there and saw nobody who represented their perspective. And the result was the year the women where you saw a record number of women being elected to office. And I think women consumers out there need to take a look at the news stations, and look at the networks, and see whether or not their voice is being represented. And you know, they can really change this country.
CONAN: Let's get a question from the audience here at the Newseum.
SEAN (Audience Member): Hi, I am Sean, and I am from Laramie, Wyoming, so you got a whole bunch of Wyoming people calling today. My question is, Elizabeth, you talked a little bit about how this is the first time that we have this real potential for either a woman serve as president or an African-American serve as president.
And along the same lines, the whole panel has talked a lot about how there's these real tangible examples of women having their voices heard. And my question is regardless of who's elected, whether it's a Democrat or whichever Democrat nominee is elected, what are the other sorts of real tangible example of progress in racial or gender politics?
Ms. SHIPP: I think that it's tremendous when you look at turnout, and you have to realize that that also going to translate down ballot. And so, you know, there is a wonderful crop of candidates, you know, down ballot this year that is running on the ticket as well. And so, you know, you've got strong women who are running, whether it's Dena Titus who has just announced that she's running in Nevada three.
You've got strong - you've got Jean Shaheen in New Hampshire who is an amazing candidate, a former governor, running against John Sununu. So I think that it translates that all of these new turned-out voters, whether they're African-American, whether they're women, whether they're young, whether they're party switchers, I think that that's going to translate, and you're going to see a lot more victories that don't represent the mainstream idea of what it means to be a senator or congressional representative in Washington today. And I think that's a good thing.
Ms. OLIVER: I think it's been also one of the great side effects of the presidential campaign. In Indiana and North Carolina when those primaries were going on, there was such a huge turnout amongst women that you saw in the nominating primaries for governor of those two states two women emerge. Bev Perdue won the Democratic nomination for governor of North Carolina, and Jill Long Thompson won the nomination in Indiana.
In Oregon last night, Kate Brown beat three other opponents to win the nomination for Oregon secretary of state. So there have been a huge number of women running and we know, you know, and in EMILY's List we have a little slogan "When Women Vote, Women Win." And that's as candidates, and I think that's also a result of a better government.
CONAN: Ramona let me ask you, do your African-American friends, do your members of your family give you a hard time for supporting Hillary Clinton?
Ms. OLIVER: It is - actually my mother is just a diehard Hillary Clinton fan. And I come from a strong, big family of very strong southern African-American women. You know my great grandmother was a laundress, and owned her own business, and I was thinking this morning what she would think about this. You know we - my mother and I are both Hillary Clinton fans. I think some of my other family, and I respect their opinion.
We've got into debates about it, that they feel so strongly about what Barack Obama represents, and the historic nature of this that they're supporting him no matter what. And I think that's great. I mean, I think that the energy and excitement that both of these candidates have generated amongst Democrats is just amazing and unprecedented, and the combined force of those two waves is going to take the White House back.
CONAN: We're talking with Elizabeth Shipp of NARAL, Ramona Oliver, who you just heard, from EMILY's List, and with Ken Rudin, of course. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And we do have a bit of news to talk about. NPR spoke today with David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Senator Obama, who said that he would be willing to concede more than half of Florida's delegates to Senator Clinton.
Of course, that meeting is coming up at the Rules Committee of the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, Ken Rudin, at the end of this month. And those are the kinds of concessions that people were beginning to look for once the Obama camp felt absolutely secure that the nomination was in their hands.
RUDIN: It's also one of the reasons that Hillary Clinton insist on staying in the race because as she said from the beginning that every vote counts, and every vote should be counted. And of course, you know, for whatever reasons Michigan and Florida delegates were disqualified, it's not the voters' fault, And not, you know, maybe the DNC's fault or maybe state officials in Michigan and Florida. So the DNC meets as you say, May 31st here in Washington, you know, the Rules Committee.
And the Barack Obama campaign and - by the way, even though neither campaign - neither candidate campaigned in either state, Hillary Clinton did win both primaries, and her campaign has argued that she should get a majority of the delegates. And it's interesting that the Obama campaign made that gesture, I say, I suggest, but also to bring peace among the two factions will offer to give a majority of the delegates to both Hillary Clinton. It won't jeopardize his nomination, but it will at least help Hillary Clinton realize her dream that every vote counts.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last caller in, and this Patty, Patty with us from Newark, Delaware.
PATTY (Caller): Hi. I'm calling because I'm a Republican woman, and if Hillary Clinton was on the ballot in the fall, she would definitely have my vote. But if this is going to be Barack Obama, I'm going with John McCain. I'm really excited that the idea of having a woman in the White House, but Barack Obama just doesn't do it for me, so I'm going to stick with good old John McCain.
CONAN: And Patty, do you think that there are a lot of other people like you who would have made that same decision?
PATTY: Yes, as long - as a matter of fact, a lot of my friends feel the same way. We would, you know, we just feel like Hillary Clinton was given a raw deal by the media.
CONAN: A raw deal by the media. Well...
CONAN: And again, I guess, Elizabeth, that goes back to the idea that maybe an opportunity might have been lost.
Ms. SHIPP: It does, and I feel like I have to say this on behalf of Barack Obama. Yes, Senator Clinton has experienced sexism like some of us have never seen, but the fact that - through the media. But the fact that voters are somehow equating that to Barack Obama, I think is unfortunate. And I think it's unfortunate, with all due respect to Patty, because I get that she's a Republican, that they would support somebody who would so turn back the clock on women's reproductive rights, on a whole host of things.
I mean, whether it's equal pay, whether it's Roe v Wade, that, you know, that they have to think in their self interest, and Ramona has talked a lot about, don't take the women's vote for granted. Don't take these candidates for granted either. There are clear and stark differences. And I feel like blaming Barack Obama, or that campaign, for what we've seen in the media, is not fair to him, and people should take into consideration the stark differences between Obama and McCain.
(Soundbite of applause)
Ms. OLIVER: I think it is a challenge because, you know, while not responsible for it, I think a lot of people see the Obama campaign as benefiting from the sexist treatment that Senator Clinton has received in the media. But I hope that, you know, Patty and Zoey (ph) will sort of turn around, because I think if whoever is the nominee is going to share some core values and issues that we all want to see like ending the war in Iraq, making healthcare affordable again, getting these gas prices out of the sky, and seeing, you know, a change in direction in this country and I think both of these candidates represent that.
CONAN: Patty, thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.
PATTY: Thank you, bye-bye.
CONAN: And I'm afraid we're going to have to end our conversation there. We're out of time. Elizabeth Shipp, the political director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Ramona Oliver, communications director of EMILY's List, joined us here at the Newseum. Thank you both very much for coming in.
Ms. OLIVER: Thank you.
Ms. SHIPP: Thank you.
CONAN: And Ken, as always, we'll see you again next week.
RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, and you can read his column "The Political Junkie" at npr.org if you haven't had enough. I am Neal Conan. this is Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.