WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--Female supporters of presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton cheered in Wednesday's early hours as the New York senator revived her campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination with a trifecta in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island primary contests on Tuesday.
"It's a big shot in the arm," said Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a group in Arlington, Va., that advocates on behalf of women's rights.
"You can't count her out yet," added Gloria Feldt, a vocal Clinton supporter and the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York.
Women also scored some major victories in down-ballot races on Tuesday.
In Ohio, Democrat Victoria Wulsin won the right to challenge GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt in November, and three other women--Democrats Jane Mitakides, Sharon Neuhardt and Mary Jo Kilroy--won their party's nominations for the U.S. House of Representatives, according to news reports. Democratic incumbents Marcy Kaptur, Betty Sutton and Stephanie Tubbs Jones ran unopposed for their party's nomination in Ohio.
In Texas, Republican Shelley Sekula Gibbs proceeds to an April 8 runoff against Republican Pete Olsen for the right to run for the seat once held by ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Meanwhile, House Reps. Kay Granger, a Republican, and Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson ran unopposed for the right to seek re-election.
In the presidential race, female voters put Clinton over the top. In Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island, women backed Clinton over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama by double-digit gaps ranging from 13 to 56 points, according EMILY's List, a leading political action committee in Washington, D.C., that backs pro-choice Democratic women.
Women comprised between 55 and 62 percent of voters in states holding primaries Tuesday, reflecting a surge in female turnout over 2004, according to EMILY's List.
'Backbone of Support'
"Once again women made up the backbone of Hillary Clinton's support in her critical victories in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island," said EMILY's List President Ellen Malcolm. "Women have been Sen. Clinton's most consistent and committed backers from the beginning and they will see her through to the end and victory."
Clinton carried Ohio by a sizeable margin--54 to 44 percent, according to CNN--and in so doing demonstrated her ability to win battleground states in November, Smeal said, echoing Clinton's own argument in her Ohio victory speech. As the race increasingly centers on the question of which candidate is most likely to win in November, Clinton also pounded the point that no candidate in recent history has won the presidency without winning the Ohio primary.
"It's a solid win in not only a bellwether state but in a state the Democrats have to win," Smeal said, adding: "If you look at the states she's won, it's the states you have to win."
In Rhode Island Clinton won 58 to 40 percent, according to CNN. She held a smaller lead in Texas, winning with 51 percent of the vote, 3 points more than Obama.
Texas also held a caucus Tuesday night, but the results are not yet known. The caucus will yield 67 of the state's 228 delegates.
Obama saw a bright spot in Vermont, where he triumphed with 60 percent of the vote.
Key Races Ahead
Attention now turns Wyoming and Mississippi, where the Democratic Party holds nominating contests in coming days, and then to delegate-rich Pennsylvania, which holds its primary on April 22 and has 158 delegates up for grabs. Several remaining states and U.S. territories hold Democratic nominating contests in May and June.
Clinton's performance put the brakes on "Obamamentum" as the Illinois senator's strong roll in February is sometimes called.
"Ohio has written a new chapter in the history of this campaign and we're just getting started," Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd in a nationally broadcast victory speech in Columbus, Ohio. "Millions of Americans haven't spoken yet."
Obama still has the edge in electoral delegates after winning nearly a dozen straight nominating contests in the weeks since the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday contests.
So far this year, Obama has won 1,257 "pledged" delegates--meaning those committed by the popular votes in state primaries and caucuses--and 194 "superdelegates," or party leaders who have promised to support his nomination at the national party convention in Denver this August, according to CNN.
That gives him a total of 1,451 out of a 2,025 needed to win the nod.
For her part, Clinton has won 1,127 pledged delegates and 238 superdelegates, giving her a total of 1,365, according to CNN.
"Together, you and I are going to grow this movement to deliver change in November," Obama said in a late-night email to supporters.
Ellen Bravo, former director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, an advocacy group in Milwaukee, supports Obama.
She said she had hoped the night would have gone in her candidate's favor and pressure Clinton out of the race so Democrats could begin coalescing around a single candidate in preparation for the general election. "My concern is that if she stays in the race the situation will become contentious," she said.
Ruth Rosen, an author and journalist who has signed an anti-war petition endorsing Obama, said she was dismayed by what she described as a jingoistic reshuffling of the terms of debate. Clinton's recent television advertisement with a ringing telephone in the middle of the night making the case that she was the best military leader played on voters' fears, she said.
Emphasis on Military Strength
"I'm really saddened that the Democratic debate is now moving in a direction of who is more prepared to be the commander in chief to fight wars" rather than end them, she said. "This is imitating in the worst possible way what the Bush administration has been about."
Other female peace advocates have argued--both individually and in a group petition last month--that Obama's initial opposition to the Iraq war makes him a better choice for women than Clinton, who voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq and has since objected to fixed timelines to troop withdrawals.
In her campaign, Clinton has pledged to begin a phased withdrawal within 60 days of taking office; Obama, who objected to the war authorization leading up to his 2004 bid for the Senate, has said he would withdraw all troops within 16 months of taking office.
Women's rights leaders on both sides of the Democratic nomination fight expressed their opposition to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who claimed his party's presidential nomination after sweeping the four states that held primaries Tuesday.
For women, McCain would be a "disaster," Feldt said. "Somehow he's been able to persuade the press and the public that he has a calm demeanor and a maverick political stance, but he has neither," she said. "His voting record indicates--with the exception of just two issues really, immigration and campaign finance reform--he is right down the line, not just voting with the president but is totally hard-right."
Zillah Eisenstein, an author and professor at Ithaca College in New York who backs Obama, called McCain's candidacy "truly worrisome."
With clear victories in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont, McCain captured more than the 1,191 delegates needed to win his party's presidential nod and squeeze former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee out of the race.
It's "an accomplishment that once seemed to more than a few doubters unlikely," McCain said during a nationally broadcast victory speech.
He took the opportunity to set the tone for the general election, defending President Bush's decision to invade Iraq and laying out support for free trade, lower taxes and less government regulation of business.
"The contest begins tonight," McCain said.
"We fought the good fight and finished the race," Huckabee told his supporters. "We'd like to have finished first, but we stayed in until the race was over, but more importantly we kept the faith."
Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women's eNews.
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