Clinton Steps Up Appeals to Female Donors

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton is increasingly banking on politically active women to keep her on pace with Sen. Barack Obama in the ongoing sprint for campaign cash.

Clinton is rolling out a series of events tailored to women, a group her campaign believes has great untapped fundraising potential, beginning last month with a New York waterfront concert headlined by singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton and continuing last week with a luncheon in Los Angeles.

Her effort is being coupled with a fresh push by Emily's List, the nation's largest political action committee, which recently mailed its supporters and appealed to them to contribute to Clinton's campaign.

"I think women are going to be the foundation of her victory," said Ellen R. Malcolm, president of Emily's List, which supports female candidates. "These are people who are thrilled with the idea of electing a woman president."

The overture to women has intensified since Obama (Ill.) stunned Clinton loyalists by out-raising her among Democratic primary donors over the first three months of the year, with $23 million to Clinton's $19 million.

Clinton, the junior senator from New York, remains the overall money leader, but Obama is keeping the pressure on. Days after filing his first reports, Obama's campaign posted a note on his Web site boasting that more than 40,000 additional donors had already sent contributions through the Internet.

Though the primaries are more than eight months away, campaign strategists are viewing the next two months as a critical period for raising cash. By summer, vacationing donors will be harder to locate. In the fall, the candidates hope to devote more time to the intense voter contact required to win support in New Hampshire and Iowa.

Clinton held a meeting of her top money-raisers in Washington last week, with a break-out session devoted to her plans to reach out to women. Susie Tompkins Buell, co-founder of the fashion giant Esprit and a major Clinton fundraiser, shared the results of a survey she helped underwrite that showed that 27 percent of political dollars come from women.

"We are determined to adjust that," Tompkins Buell said. "We looked at women and their giving -- what inhibits them, what inspires them. Women have the capability. They're ready. We just have to give them the opportunity."

The Women's Campaign Forum conducted the survey, doing extensive polling and working with focus groups to try to understand why women do not give more, and how they can change that.

What the group found, said President Ilana Goldman, is that there is "an enormous opportunity to engage women in acting financially in the political realm. It's not a lack of interest, passion or financial capacity. We just need to talk to women in a different way."

Clinton may be uniquely positioned to alter the trend. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month showed her lead within the Democratic field is far wider among women. And a Post analysis of itemized donations from the first quarter shows that contributions from women made up 36 percent of Clinton's total, while women made up about 30 percent of Obama's donors. All other candidates combined got 15 percent of their contributions from women.

The Post conducted the analysis by coding a sample of each candidate's donors, accounting for the 100 first names that appeared most often in their itemized contributions. The sample made up about half of the contributions to each candidate. Contributions from people whose names did not reveal gender accounted for less than 1 percent of candidates' fundraising.

While Clinton tailors her appeals to women, Obama is focusing his second-quarter efforts on building a larger stable of young professional donors -- a group the campaign refers to as Generation O.

Jamie Denenberg, 31, an international marketing executive for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, helped organize an April 28 event for Obama at the Hollywood nightclub Boulevard 3. She started with 10 co-hosts, and in a matter of days, she said, that list grew to 50.

"We just felt like it's difficult for the 40-and-under crowd to attend the $2,300 events, but there was a huge amount of people at the $500 level that we thought we could tap into," she said. More than 800 people turned out, and the event raised about $350,000. Denenberg said the campaign set up a video booth and posted snapshots on a Web site for young donors:

The appeal was part of a broad strategy in cities across the country. Obama has held similar events for young donors in Boston, Chicago and Atlanta, and David Burd, a 26-year-old voting rights lawyer who met Obama through his Harvard Law School professor, has one planned in Washington on May 23.

Burd started a young-lawyers group for Obama in Washington a few months ago and is using its growing list of members to build a fundraising network. "People who got involved in the young-lawyers groups have all reached out to their friends, and it's grown from there," Burd said. More than 1,000 are expected at the D.C. event.

At the same time, neither Obama nor the other contenders are conceding women's support to Clinton.

Michelle Obama, the candidate's wife, has stepped up her efforts on the campaign trail and has launched a "Women for Obama" initiative, central to the campaign's strategy for undercutting whatever advantage Clinton might have because she is a woman. She has made several trips independently of her husband, including to Iowa with their younger daughter last weekend; she is going to New Hampshire on Monday.

And Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former senator John Edwards of North Carolina, has retooled her appeal to donors to try to draw more support from women. In several recent published interviews she has said her husband will do more to help women than any other candidate, including the one hoping to become the nation's first female president.

"If you want to make a difference in women's lives by your vote in 2008, vote for John Edwards," she said in an interview with the Associated Press last week.

But Clinton appears poised to launch the most aggressive push for women's support. Carol Pensky, a volunteer who has worked with Clinton to organize women for the past 15 years, said the pitch will be made in multiple cities in coming weeks, at events with the theme "Make History with Hillary."

Several of the events will involve such high-profile women as Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), tennis legend Billie Jean King, former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and Malcolm, the Emily's List president.

Paul Herrnson, a University of Maryland professor who tracks donor activity, said whichever candidate reaches out to women in the coming months will probably be well served. His surveys have shown that, in recent years, men have made up about two-thirds of all donors. "But that's changing," Herrnson said. "The number of women who make donations has been growing substantially."

Database editor Sarah Cohen contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company