By Shailagh Murray and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 8, 2007
DES MOINES -- Seeking to steady her campaign in Iowa, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will bring a wave of prominent women to blanket the state and target female voters in the final weeks before its first-in-the-nation caucuses.
As afternoon talk icon Oprah Winfrey begins a swing through early-primary states to promote Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), Clinton is countering with a move she has long resisted: having her mother join her on the campaign trail.
Dorothy Rodham's appearances at a series of rallies around the state this weekend are just the start of the effort to move women, a group the campaign has long viewed as its core constituency, into Clinton's column. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright will come to Iowa to vouch for her "strength and experience," which her advisers view as her main asset, and even more surrogates will be arriving in the next two weeks.
Nearly a dozen women -- including elected officials such as Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), activists such as Ellen R. Malcolm of Emily's List, and Betsy Ebeling, Clinton's best friend from childhood -- are scheduled to appear on her behalf. Last week, Townsend, the former Maryland lieutenant governor, and her sister Kerry Kennedy introduced Clinton at a major appearance in northern Iowa. Ruth Harkin, the wife of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), has remained virtually attached to Clinton's side for much of the race.
"It's obvious that Obama has made some inroads with women," said one senior Clinton adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The campaign, the adviser said, is responding with new television advertisements, additional paid calls and new mailers targeting women.
At one recent event at the Iowa Capitol with Christine Vilsack, the state's former first lady, Clinton's props were a men's cake and a women's cake -- the latter with a chunk missing, to highlight the wage disparity. Clinton's Web site has featured a running wage calculator that shows what women earn compared with men for the same jobs. The campaign has even begun offering child care at its events and will do so the night of the Iowa caucuses in an appeal to single mothers.
"WE NEED YOUR HELP!" Dana Singiser, director of women's outreach for the Clinton campaign, said in an e-mail to the "Women for Hillary" list sent out Friday morning pleading with female supporters to come to the Clinton headquarters in Arlington, Iowa, over the weekend to make calls to women in the electorate.
"Our outreach to women has been based from the beginning on a social networking model," said Ann Lewis, a longtime Clinton aide who is heading the New York Democrat's mobilization of female voters. "You reach out to your friends, your neighbors, the women you see when you drop your kids off at day care, and your co-workers."
"Take your buddy to caucus" events have filled Clinton's Iowa schedule in recent weeks. These sessions are aimed at helping women understand the time-consuming caucus process, to drive up their participation rates. Emily's List, the abortion rights group that supports female candidates, has also launched an education program for Iowa women who are inclined to support Clinton but who had not planned to caucus for her.
That demographic may represent her best chance for increasing her support. Emily's List conducted a Web survey of Iowa women in October and found that Clinton led Obama 51 percent to 22 percent among women who were not sure they would caucus this year. Among women who were certain to caucus, Clinton and Obama were virtually tied, just as they are in public polls.
"Knowing who will go is really hard," conceded Maren Hesla, director of the Emily's List project, which has identified 70,000 Iowa women who are potential Clinton supporters. If Hesla can entice 5,000 of them to participate, "that would be huge," she said, and "could be enough to tip the balance" in a three-way race between Clinton, Obama and former senator John Edwards (N.C.).
The Obama campaign is fighting for every one of those potential supporters as well. As testimonials go, it would be hard to point to a more powerful messenger than Winfrey. The campaign also is holding more intimate sessions, led by Michelle Obama or prominent local women, for undecided women. The candidate's new Iowa television ad features clips of Obama's stirring speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines last month, interspersed with images of women in the audience, all watching the candidate intently. A new Obama radio ad, airing on FM pop music stations, features a young female narrator.
Senior Obama strategist Steve Hildebrand argued that the Clinton logic is wrong, because it is based on "the assumption that women voters are going to support Hillary Clinton because she's a woman. That's not how voters make up their minds."
Women represent six out of 10 likely voters in the Democratic caucuses, according to the most recent Des Moines Register survey. They are about evenly split between Obama and Clinton, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in mid-November. Among women likely to vote in the Jan. 3 Democratic contest, 32 percent supported Obama, 31 supported Clinton and 19 percent supported Edwards.
Without question, gender is helping Clinton with some female voters. James and Mary Norton of New Hartford, Iowa, describe themselves as strong Clinton supporters but were attending a recent event with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). "I like him a lot," James Norton said, before his wife quickly piped in, tugging at his sleeve, "Yes, but we want a woman to have a chance."
But many other Iowa women, while also viewing the senator's presidential bid as historic and inspiring, do not consider the gender factor to be reason enough to vote for her.
"It would be wonderful to have a woman in the White House. It's been way too long," said Ferol Menzel, vice president for academic affairs at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
But perhaps Clinton is not the right woman, Menzel added. "We certainly know there's an animosity toward the Clintons that will probably be a factor," she said. "Which is a shame, because she's a bright woman and could do the job. But I really want a Democrat to be elected."
Chief Clinton strategist Mark Penn said the division in the polls among women reflects their tendency to make a decision late -- though he conceded the Winfrey weekend would bring the Illinois senator plenty of attention.
"I think they're going to have some really terrific events with Oprah," Penn said. "I think the big question really is, does Senator Obama have the experience, compared to Hillary Clinton? And I don't know how that's going to really change that. I think, at the end of the day, she will get more women than anybody else, and I think she will because I think Iowa women will break late for her."
Perhaps most worrisome for Clinton is the possibility that women are looking for more than experience or promises to mend gender-based inequities such as wage disparity. The group Women's Voices Women Vote, which targets the broad category of unmarried women who constitute nearly half the female electorate, just completed a survey that shows women to be motivated by Clinton's candidacy but more driven by a desire to bring about change -- which would appear to mesh with the Obama message.
"Their intensity around that is much greater," said Page S. Gardner, founder of the nonpartisan group. "They have a desire to get out and change the way this country is governed. That's the number one goal. Their desire for change and their desire to participate in that change -- we have never seen numbers like this."
Ruth Lux, 59, a medical secretary in Carroll, should be a prime Clinton voter. And for a time, she was.
"When Bill Clinton was president, I couldn't wait until she ran," Lux said. But the intense campaign in Iowa has changed her mind. She now thinks Clinton cannot win nationally, and perhaps should not.
"Electability is a big issue. She's polarizing," said Lux, who favors Obama. "I just think Obama has broad appeal to independents and some Republicans. I think he's viewed as more conciliatory and a bridge builder and he can cross the blue-red divide."
But Lux's move away from Clinton brings her no joy.
"I'm actually surprised at myself that I'm not wholeheartedly supporting Hillary," Lux said. "It grieves me as a woman."
Staff writers Peter Slevin in Des Moines and Krissah Williams in Washington and polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.