Clinton's Campaign in N.H. Touched Chord With Women
Thursday, January 10, 2008
To the pollsters and pundits, even the campaigns themselves, Hillary Rodham Clinton's victory Tuesday was a shocker -- "probably the most surprising political event that any of us can remember in a long time," said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a backer of Clinton rival Barack Obama -- and the result of a sudden, unexplained outpouring of female voters.
But New Hampshire proved to be a sleight of hand. While Obama was drawing huge crowds at exultant campaign rallies, an aggressive and old-fashioned ground game, focused almost singularly on ensuring that the gender gap Clinton had lost in Iowa was put in motion by her campaign and its allied women's groups.
In the four days between the two elections, her campaign and its allies were knocking on doors, working dozens of phone banks and aggressively hitting Obama with new attack lines -- implying in direct-mail fliers, for example, that the staunchly pro-abortion-rights Obama was less than committed to that issue and hinting that he favors raising taxes on the middle class.
Despite the polls favoring the senator from Illinois, it worked.
"Everyone's talking about the polls, but I was almost not believing the polls," said Mindy Kacavas, a stay-at-home mom in Manchester and an obliging but accidental participant in Clinton's New Hampshire blitz.
Just before Christmas, Kacavas was contacted by a political photographer friend of hers, asking if she'd pose for some pictures to help Clinton. The photo shoot was largely forgotten until a few days ago, when a flier arrived at her home from a political organization Kacavas had never heard of, with a photo of her emblazoned on the cover and a quote she never uttered: "When I think about Hillary Clinton, I think intelligent, decisive, and a true understanding of the problems facing America."
"I couldn't have said it better," she said yesterday with a laugh.
The mailing came from Women Vote, one of the largest organizations dedicated to electing Democratic women. The independent political arm of Emily's List had spent $500,000 in Iowa, educating women on the caucus process, trying to bring out a record female turnout, only to see its efforts swamped by Obama's appeal to young voters and independents.
In New Hampshire, the group went back to basics with a $200,000, lower-tech effort. It divided women into two camps: one with a history of voting in the primaries, another with newly minted registrations. Fliers went into the mail not with the fresh, smiling faces that were used in the Iowa campaign but with Granite State women, in Christmas sweaters, down parkas and sensible jackets, their faces set in earnest, speaking to their own kind. And Women Vote began calling 54,000 New Hampshire women in what Maren Hesla, the group's director, called "peer to peer" communication.
The approach seemed to touch a chord among pragmatic female voters stung by rising education, energy and health-care costs, anxious about signs of an economic downturn and looking for solutions. Among the New Hampshire women who said their families were falling behind financially, Clinton was preferred over Obama, 47 percent to 31 percent, according to network exit polls. Women who said their families were getting ahead favored Clinton 46 percent to 42 percent. Women who were very worried about the nation's economy favored Clinton 45 percent to 34 percent.
"I'm not convinced we fully know" why the New Hampshire polls were all wrong, and Obama lost the race, senior Obama adviser Steve Hildebrand said. But, he conceded, the campaign's turnout model did not anticipate that women would make up 57 percent of voters in the Democratic primary.
The refusal of so many New Hampshire voters, particularly women, to be swept up in the excitement surrounding Obama's victorious arrival in New Hampshire should not have entirely been a surprise, because there were some traces of the same resistance at his big rally in Manchester with Oprah Winfrey a few weeks earlier. The rally -- the Obama campaign's main targeted appeal to women in the state -- drew more than 8,000 people on a snowy school night, and most of them roared with applause for both Oprah and Obama. But afterward, several of those attending said they had been left cool by the whole production.