McCain, Obama Reaching Out to Female Voters

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who has been campaigning for John McCain, is planning a female-focused speaking tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who has been campaigning for John McCain, is planning a female-focused speaking tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sen. John McCain and his aides have gone out of their way to praise Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in recent days, and by the end of the week his most prominent female supporter, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, will embark on a female-focused speaking tour in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The presidential campaign is hoping to capitalize on the "security moms" who backed President Bush over Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 election, while making inroads with other voters by questioning Sen. Barack Obama's experience on the economy and foreign affairs and trying to exploit unhappiness with his defeat of Clinton.

Their effort is understandable. While working-class white men have been a focus of the primaries, women -- who made up 54 percent of the electorate in 2004 -- may prove to be more decisive in the fall election.

McCain's overtures to women in the past have been limited -- his daughter Meghan McCain writes her own blog and his chief strategist's wife heads up a voluntary women's outreach group -- and now he is offering independent and Democratic women the unconventional pitch that his policy prescriptions for economic, health-care and environmental issues trump such traditional issues as equal pay, abortion rights and contraception coverage.

"No one should take a woman's vote for granted, and the Democratic Party should certainly not take it for granted," said Fiorina, who appeared on "Good Morning America" yesterday as part of her effort to reach female voters. "I'm a woman, and as a woman, I'm really proud Hillary Clinton ran for president. I am enormously proud of what she did, and frankly, I have enormous sympathy for what she went through."

Fiorina, who has campaigned for McCain for months and now serves as the Republican National Committee's Victory chair, said that while Republicans have not always won women as a bloc, the campaign has "a level playing field to work with" because "there are Democratic women who are very upset with the way the Democratic primary went."

But the Obama campaign and its allies are already courting Clinton's supporters with phone calls and behind-the-scenes negotiations on staffing and say they are confident that even Democratic women who have expressed anger about the outcome of the primaries would support Obama in the fall because of the Democratic Party's stance on domestic issues.

Obama senior adviser Anita Dunn said women were torn in the Democratic primary contests because voters were choosing between "two historic candidates, when both historic candidates had excellent records on women's issues."

"We're not running against Hillary Clinton any longer, and that's not the choice women have to make," she said yesterday. "They're choosing between two candidates who have dramatically different records on women's issues, neither of whom are a woman."

Women's groups moved quickly to close ranks behind the presumptive Democratic nominee this week, with several former Clinton supporters joining in a conference call to try to debunk McCain's assertion that he can appeal to women. Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, posted an article on the Huffington Post Web site on Tuesday explaining why her late mother, Ann Richards, who was a governor of Texas, would have backed Obama -- "Mom required only one thing of the many folks who asked for her campaign help: a 100 percent belief in women's rights" -- and her group is organizing 250 parties nationwide next week where female activists will tout Obama's legislative record.

But no one is underestimating the task ahead, which is to blitz voters with information on the two candidates' records to convince them that McCain is not as moderate as many women think he is.

"Let me be clear: We've got a lot of work to do," said Emily's List Executive Director Ellen Moran, whose Democratic political action committee backed Clinton's presidential bid but now favors Obama. "We're starting to do the research and focus the debate."

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