Military Moms May Be a Force at the Polls

By Anne E. Kornblut and Michael D. Shear
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

MANCHESTER, N.H. One of the foremost experts on politics in the Granite State thinks she has found the next critical constituency: military moms.

"She would typically be a Republican who is not against war and is not necessarily against this war -- or at least may have supported it when it began," Jennifer Donahue, senior adviser for political affairs at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, said over sodas at the Red Arrow Diner last week.

The military mom -- who has either a child or a husband who is serving -- is disenchanted with the war. The question is: Will she shift allegiance to support a Democrat, or is she looking for an independent-minded Republican?

She is " the swing vote," Donahue said. Especially in New Hampshire.

One need look no further than down the counter at the Red Arrow to find a military mom, Elaine Boule, the manager, who lost a brother-in-law to the war in Iraq and is about to abandon her lifelong pattern of backing Republicans to support a Democrat, possibly Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

That is typical, Donahue said: The military mom "would probably vote for a candidate who she thought would have credibility on foreign affairs, so that on the Democratic side is most likely to be Hillary Clinton." Most polling shows Clinton far ahead on the question of experience. She also scores an advantage among women generally -- and her campaign strategists think she will draw even more women, including Republicans, once voting begins.

Still, a Washington Post-ABC News poll in April found that more women in military families had already rejected Clinton outright (48 percent) than had women in nonmilitary households (34 percent).

As she watches the campaign unfold, Donahue, a former television producer who moved into academia after the 2000 presidential race, said she is noticing other distinct trends in New Hampshire that are not necessarily being reflected at the national level.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) still has support in the state, she argues, and may be able to pull off another expectations-defying stunner despite his national decline. His biggest challenge? Keeping independents -- who make up 44 percent of the state's electorate -- in his camp. In New Hampshire's open primary, independents can vote in either contest, which means that McCain is likely to be battling Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for unaffiliated voters in January.

Republican former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is having a hard time conveying his "mayor of September 11" persona in the state, she added. "The argument up here that [the] Giuliani-equals-9/11 response doesn't seem to be getting across, in part because he hasn't campaigned here all that much," Donahue said. "But it's really because you don't get asked just one thing at the town hall meetings in New Hampshire. You get asked 25 things. So if you have a good answer on one question it doesn't get you home. You have to answer the other 24. And he's vague on certain things."

So, who's winning? "You have to be really careful," Donahue said, recalling that a week before the 2000 primary, Bush strategist Karl Rove told her that the Texas governor would win the state by 10 points (he lost by 18). "Most New Hampshire voters decide in the last week before the primary -- especially independents, who tend to decide in the last weekend before the primary," she said. "So anything that's happened so far is significant, but nothing that's happened so far can't be changed."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company