WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–Tuesday’s multi-state primary raised women to a new height in any calculations about the eventual outcome of the Democratic dead heat.
Women heavily dominated the turnout in every state, accounting for between 55 percent and 62 percent of the electorate, according to a gender analysis by EMILY’s List, the Washington, D.C.-based political action committee that backs pro-choice female Democrats. (See chart.)
|New Mexico *||56%/44%||47%||39%||47%||53%||14||48/49||New York
||57/40||North Dakota *
[MSNBC Exit Poll Data, Accessed 2/6/08]
*New Mexico numbers are not finalized.
Source: EMILY’s List
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In a comparison of some states’ male-female turnouts this year and four years ago, EMILY’s List found women consistently widening their gap. The biggest gain was in South Carolina, where women’s turnout advantage widened by 7 percentage points.
With about 40 percent of the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton holds a narrow lead over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who has won about 36 percent of the delegates, according to CNN.
Overall, women gave Clinton a slight edge on Tuesday, with 53 percent of female participants in Democratic primaries and caucuses spanning the country backing the former first lady, according to an analysis conducted by the Associated Press.
Nearly 60 percent of white women and 65 percent of Hispanic women voted for Clinton, according to an analysis of exit polls published on CNN’s Web site.
But other groups of female voters in Tuesday’s electorate–notably African Americans and anti-war activists–threw their weight behind Obama.
An overwhelming 80 percent of black women favored Obama, according to CNN.
African American women, who originally favored Clinton in heavy numbers, shifted toward Obama not because of race or gender but because they see him as a more formidable opponent to the Republican frontrunner, Arizona Sen. John McCain, said Mark Sawyer, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Obama’s more positive message “touched a nerve” with black women, he said.
‘Denver or Bust!’
“Denver or Bust!” Steffini Bethea, an African American entrepreneur in Atlanta and contributor to Black Women for Obama, an online coalition with 17 state chapters, proclaimed in a Feb. 6 letter to supporters. She referred to the city where the Democratic nominee will be crowned this August at the Democratic National Convention.
I am “sick and tired of politics as usual,” she wrote. “I want to go to Denver in August to cast a vote for change. That vote has everything to do with Senator Barack Obama.”
Female anti-war activists championed Obama for opposing 2002 legislation granting the president authority to use force in Iraq; Clinton voted for it and has not retracted her initial support.
Among women’s overall high showing at the polls, Page Gardner, president of Women’s Voices, Women Vote, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., said unmarried women are turning out in record numbers.
“We’re seeing an enormous surge,” she said, pointing to states like Georgia and Alabama, where unmarried women make up 24 percent of the registered voters but measured 32 and 28 percent of the states’ respective electorates on Tuesday.
Gardner said unmarried women are split between candidates.
The Female Surge
Ramona Oliver, spokesperson for EMILY’s List, said the surge in female turnout is helping Clinton, whom the group endorsed.
“Hillary Clinton’s victories to date have been built on significant support from women,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “In the states Hillary Clinton won last night, there were double-digit gender advantages ranging from 13 to 56 points.”
The question of how Democratic women are voting is under such scrutiny this year that many women feel compelled to announce and justify their choice.
Days ahead of Super Tuesday, for instance, a group of New York self-described feminists and peace activists circulated an Obama endorsement letter that underscored Clinton’s early support for the invasion of Iraq. Women such as Nation columnist Katha Pollitt and actor Kathleen Chalfant signed it.
Meanwhile, days ahead of the multi-state primary, the Women’s Media Center, a women’s media advocacy group based in New York, ran an essay on its home page by writer Robin Morgan that detailed her reasons for backing Clinton. Her bottom line: “Me, I’m voting for Hillary not because she’s a woman–but because I am.”
Oprah Winfrey, the African American television talk show queen and billionaire, has complained of women accusing her of betraying her gender when she endorsed Obama.
‘I Am Not a Traitor’
“I am not a traitor,” Winfrey declared last Sunday at a campaign rally for Obama in California. “I’m just following my own truth, and that truth has led me to Barack Obama.”
Clinton prevailed in larger states on Tuesday. She won the delegate-rich state of California and prevailed in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. She also won states in the South and Southwest including Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Those victories come on top of earlier wins in New Hampshire and Nevada.
Clinton also won primaries in Florida and Michigan, but she picked up no delegates there because the states held nominating contests ahead of the party’s preferred schedule.
For his part, Obama scored a major victory in Georgia on Tuesday and won in his home state of Illinois. He also triumphed in smaller states such as Connecticut and Delaware in the Northeast; Alabama in the South; Utah and Colorado in the Southwest; Missouri, Minnesota and Kansas in the Midwest; and Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska in the West.
Earlier this year, he beat Clinton in Iowa and South Carolina.
New Mexico also held a primary race on Tuesday but the results were too close to call at presstime.
Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews.
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