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CAMPAIGN '08

For Clinton backers, it's a gender issue

They want the Democratic Party's platform to recognize what they consider a pervasive bias.

August 01, 2008|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As her chances of becoming vice president recede, some of Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters are pushing for the Democratic Party's new platform to state that the primary elections "exposed pervasive gender bias in the media" and to call on party leaders to take "immediate and public steps" to condemn future perceived instances of bias.

The push for the plank in the party's statement of principles reflects a lingering unhappiness over Clinton's treatment during the Democratic primary, and over what her supporters say was an inadequate response from party leaders.

Some Clinton supporters have complained of jibes against the New York senator by TV talk show hosts, off-color novelty items and incidents such as the time when hecklers yelled "Iron my shirt!" at a Clinton rally.

A Democratic committee devoted to writing the platform is to meet today in Cleveland to hear presentations from policy advocates, then draft the document.

"There were so many examples in the media of sexist comments where we never heard from the party leadership or Barack Obama," said Stacy Mason, executive director of a political action committee called WomenCount, which claims thousands of members. The group ran newspaper ads in the spring urging Clinton to stay in the contest.

"We're focused on why the Democratic leadership was so silent about it during the campaign," Mason said. "It was their obligation to come to the defense of one of their own primary candidates, and they didn't. They stayed silent during the campaign, and that's not OK."

The platform is taking shape at a time when Clinton's prospects of becoming Obama's running mate are slipping. Former aides to Clinton said she was tentatively scheduled to speak on the second night of the Democratic National Convention -- on Tuesday, Aug. 26 -- not the slot typically reserved for the vice presidential nominee.

Also telling is that the Obama campaign has not asked Clinton to furnish financial records or personal background material used to vet potential vice presidential nominees, Clinton aides said.

Concluding that Clinton is out of the running, a group called Vote Both announced Thursday that it was abandoning its effort to get her named to the No. 2 spot. The organization was started by two former Clinton aides and had gathered tens of thousands of petition signatures.

That Clinton is to speak at the convention on Tuesday, the day before the vice presidential nominee typically gives an acceptance speech, is a worrisome sign, former aides and Clinton supporters said.

"I don't think it precludes her from getting the vice presidential pick, but it certainly discourages me," said Lanny Davis, a longtime friend of the Clintons. "The facts are, [Obama] is still stuck in the 40s" in the polls. "He hasn't been able to break into the 50s in any major poll in recent months, even after his European trip."

Naming Clinton his running mate would give Obama a decisive boost, Davis said.

If she is not destined to become vice president, some of her supporters want at least to see parts of Clinton's agenda enshrined in the platform.

That includes Clinton's signature proposal for universal healthcare, a stance that sets up a conflict with the Obama campaign. Where Clinton would require people to carry health insurance, Obama's healthcare proposal would mandate coverage only for children -- one of the few policy differences with Clinton that emerged in the course of the Democratic primary.

Clinton supporters who are trying to influence the platform-writing process are working independently from the New York senator and her staff. Heather Higginbottom, an Obama policy aide and a member of the drafting committee, said that Clinton's official representatives helping to shape the platform had asked neither for a healthcare mandate nor gender bias language.

"We have talked about healthcare, about sharing the goal of universal coverage. But not about a mandate," Higginbottom said.

As the party's presumptive nominee, Obama has great sway over the platform. One of his supporters in the primary elections, Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, leads the committee writing the document.

Yet Clinton played a role in appointing six of the 16 members of the drafting committee, according to her former campaign advisors.

Separately, some of her supporters have been showing up at public platform hearings around the country to emphasize their views.

The platform is a statement of the party's policies and principles meant to guide Democratic officials. After the meetings this weekend, the 186-member platform committee will meet in Pittsburgh on Aug. 9. The document will then be voted on by delegates at the nominating convention in Denver.

Some Clinton supporters "feel very strongly that the platform on certain issues should reflect positions that Sen. Clinton articulated during her presidential campaign -- including universal healthcare with a mandate," said Harold M. Ickes, a top aide to Clinton during the primary.

California Assemblyman Fabian Nunez endorsed Clinton during the primary and was appointed to the platform drafting committee at her urging. Nunez said that he thought Clinton's proposal to require health insurance was the right one and that he was prepared to argue that position on the committee.

"At the end of the day, having an individual mandate is something that I'm very comfortable with," Nunez said in an interview.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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