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The Nation

Obama backers work female vote

With the Democratic nomination depending largely on women, the campaign is trying hard to win them over.

January 25, 2008|Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writer

The search is on.

In South Carolina, they've been looking in beauty parlors; in Southern California, one focus has been on churches. Around the San Francisco Bay Area this week, they planned to start scouring the senior and assisted-living centers.

If you are registered to vote and have ever worn pantyhose, Women for Obama wants you -- and for good reason. In past races for the Democratic presidential nomination, the candidate who has attracted the most women has won.

That's why the Obama campaign started going door to door in California last month, trolling for older female voters. Why a weekly women's phone bank began statewide this month. Why Women of Faith for Obama plans to fill the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles the day after South Carolina's primary.

Why, on the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, simultaneous news conferences in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles underscored Obama's support for abortion rights.

And why Obama surrounded himself with single mothers in San Francisco last week and talked about how the tax code hurts ordinary families and "women in particular."

"And I know this because my mother was a single mom," he said while teacher Kara Dailik, 38, rocked newborn Django in her arms. "My father left when I was 2. And I know what it's like to watch someone juggle trying to go to school, trying to work and trying to raise two kids at the same time with not a lot of help."

That's a reasonable facsimile of Dailik's life, and she was glad to hear about Obama's plans to improve women's lot -- an expanded child tax credit, a better family leave law, more after-school programs, among other things.

Dailik said her affections had been split evenly between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton before she sat down with the senator from Illinois at a Women's Economic Roundtable.

She left the Mission District event closer to 65 to 35, advantage Obama. But the deal still wasn't sealed.

"I feel more aligned with the things I've heard him say and the things I know him to be working for," Dailik said. "And yet, I really want a woman in the White House. This is where I get torn."

She is not the only one, a point that the campaign is well aware of. Obama had a 5-point lead among women in Iowa and went on to victory there. Polls showed that younger, single women gravitated to him in greater numbers, whereas Clinton attracted older female caucusgoers.

In New Hampshire, polls of primary voters showed that Clinton won over married and single women alike and improved her standing among the young. The former first lady was the victor.

And on Saturday, she won Nevada too. Women made up nearly 60% of the electorate, and Clinton led Obama among those caucusgoers, 52% to 35%, according to CNN.com.

In California, it is Margaret Richardson's job to pick up where Obama leaves off in wooing these crucial voters. As the Feb. 5 primary creeps closer, the state director of Women for Obama is going into overdrive trying to help erase Clinton's double-digit lead here.

It is not an easy task.

After the roundtable came a mixer at the Bluespace, an art gallery. A group of progressive women called the Good Ol' Girls had invited representatives of the top three Democrats to explain why their candidate would be the best choice for the distaff voters of America.

Katie Muehlenkamp, 30, had helped plan the event to give her undecided sisters a hand.

It's help she herself needs. She likes all three top Democrats for different reasons, she said, and she dislikes all of them for different reasons too.

But on this day she was leaning toward Clinton. "I think it's OK that part of why I want to vote for her is because she's a woman," Muehlenkamp said, just a little defensive. "And I'm tired of being told I shouldn't."

Richardson admits that Clinton has an automatic leg up among female voters, but the 32-year-old lawyer on unpaid leave argues passionately that it is not an insurmountable hurdle.

"Of course it's historic and a tremendous statement that Sen. Clinton is in the race," she said. "But we need a candidate who can bring us together. . . . The reason Sen. Obama is the strongest candidate in this race is because his policies do the most for California's women."

One factor that probably hurt Obama in New Hampshire was an eleventh-hour Clinton campaign mailer that questioned Obama's support of abortion rights.

The headline: "A woman's right to choose . . . demands a leader who will stand up and protect it." The postcard lauded Clinton's fight to protect women's rights, and argued that Obama had been "unwilling to take a stand on choice."

The mailer cited votes that Obama cast in the Illinois Senate on "Republican anti-choice legislation. . . . Seven times he voted 'present' -- not 'yes' or 'no,' but 'present.' Being there is not enough to protect choice."

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