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Women's Voices, Women Vote: Did the Outreach Overreach?

By Shailagh Murray
Sunday, May 4, 2008

Women's Voices, Women Vote is one of those little advocacy organizations with a lot of big names attached: Former White House chief of staff John Podesta is a board member, Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams has consulted, and founder Page Gardner worked for the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign, to name a few.

But for all the paid and unpaid talent associated with the group, which focuses on registering unmarried women to vote, it's landed in legal hot water in North Carolina for robo-calling voters after the primary registration date and for not identifying the group in the call.

Voters and watchdog groups complained about the calls, and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper ordered them to stop on Wednesday. Some saw a turnout-suppression conspiracy because the group's allies include so many Clinton supporters, especially Podesta and Williams.

On Friday, Barack Obama's campaign weighed in by circulating the transcript of a National Public Radio report on the calls. It noted that the North Carolina calls seemed to heavily skew to African Americans, including many women who had already registered, causing them to question whether they were eligible to vote in the primary on Tuesday.

In a statement released on its Web site, the group explains that the calls were part of a general-election outreach effort in 24 states and coincided with mailings that conveyed a similar "hurry up and register" message. But in other states as well, the mailings and calls were placed after primary registration deadlines had passed, sowing confusion and leading to other legal complaints against the group.

"The calls were scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the voter registration applications," the group said in a statement. "We regret any confusion that has arised as a consequence of this timing." Podesta weighed in as well, calling the North Carolina situation "a mistake of judgment and execution, and not an attempt to disenfranchise voters."

Although the calls have stopped, the group is chasing down postal trucks to withdraw the mailers from circulation. Inside the organization, there is plenty of finger-pointing about who's to blame -- but by the end of the week, even some of the bloggers who had raised the specter of a Clinton conspiracy seemed to accept that shoddy management, despite all that talent, was the more likely culprit.

Who Backs Whom

The race for Democratic superdelegates reached a milestone this week, when Barack Obama pulled even with Hillary Clinton in the battle for House and Senate support. As of Friday, they had 97 lawmakers each, while 92 remain uncommitted.

Some patterns are obvious. Clinton dominates with female members of Congress, with 36 endorsements to Obama's 17, with 11 uncommitted. Obama is backed by 23 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, while Clinton has 15 CBC supporters, with three still uncommitted.

Nearly half of Clinton's endorsements, or 46 total, represent three states: New York, New Jersey and California. Obama's support is more geographically diverse, with over a third coming from states west of the Mississippi River.

One curious trend is the large number of Geoff Garin clients who have endorsed Obama. Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, a leading polling firm, became a key part of Clinton's message team with the demotion of Mark Penn in April, and it has polled for her campaign since March.

In the weeks since, quite a few Garin clients signed up with the other team, including Sen. Robert Casey (Pa.) and Reps. Lois Capps (Calif.), Baron P. Hill (Ind.) and David E. Price (N.C.). Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry also endorsed Obama in April. In fact, most of Garin's political clients listed on his firm's Web site are either with Obama or are uncommitted.

Only one, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, has declared support for Clinton in recent weeks, although Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, another Garin client, is believed to be leaning in Clinton's direction.

Two lopsided categories show members who won their seats in the big Democratic sweep of 2006, and the most vulnerable Democrats on 2008 tickets. Nearly half of these lawmakers remain uncommitted, but those who have picked candidates prefer Obama. One Democrat who fits both categories, Indiana's Hill, signed on with the senator from Illinois even though he's the underdog in Hill's conservative district. Hill was lured in part by the thousands of new student voters the Obama campaign has registered on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington.

Freshmen

Among freshman House and Senate members, the following are with Clinton: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Reps. Michael Arcuri (N.Y.), Yvette D. Clarke (N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), John Hall (N.Y.), Joe Sestak (Pa.) and Betty Sutton (Ohio).

And here's Obama's freshman lineup: Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Reps. Bruce Braley (Iowa), Julia Carson (Ind.), Kathy Castor (Fla.), Stephen I. Cohen (Tenn.), Phil Hare (Ill.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Paul W. Hodes (N.H.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Steve Kagen (Wis.), Dave Loebsack (Iowa), Christopher S. Murphy (Conn.), Patrick J. Murphy (Pa.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Tim Walz (Minn.), Peter Welch (Vt.) and John Yarmuth (Ky.).

Vulnerables

Clinton has signed up just two lawmakers -- Gillibrand and Sestak -- who are targeted by Republicans in 2008. Obama has gained support from six vulnerables: Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Melissa Bean (Ill.), Hill, Christopher Murphy (Conn.), Patrick Murphy (Pa.) and Shea-Porter.

These vulnerables remain uncommitted: Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Reps. Nancy Boyda (Kan.), Chris Carney (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), Nick Lampson (Tex.), Tim Mahoney (Fla.), Jim Marshall (Ga.), Harry E. Mitchell (Ariz.), Ciro D. Rodriguez (Tex.) and Zack Space (Ohio).

Uncommitted

Four senators elected in 2006 remain neutral: Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and James Webb (Va.). And these 2006 House members are uncommitted: Boyda (Kan.), Carney (Pa.), Courtney (Conn.), Donnelly (Ind.), Ellsworth (Ind.), Giffords (Ariz.), Hirono (Hawaii), Klein (Fla.), Lampson (Tex.), Mahoney (Fla.), McNerney (Calif.), Mitchell (Ariz.), Rodriguez (Tex.), Sarbanes (Md.), Shuler (N.C.) and Wilson (Ohio).

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