Women for Obama rally

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–The red-hot competition in today’s Super Tuesday Democratic primary finds Barack Obama conceding nothing among a group of voters who should be Hillary Clinton’s personal stronghold: New York women.

“She’s competing in Illinois, he’s competing in New York,” says Judith Hope, director of the New York Ambassadors for Hillary, a network of more than 1,600 women who work phone banks and host house meetings. “This is a real heated contest. We’re in a real race here.”

Gretchen Dykstra, an organizer of a weekend “Women for Obama” rally in New York City’s Central Park, which included 150 volunteers, agrees. “It’s important that nobody takes anybody for granted in New York state,” she says.

Women are 52 percent of the population of New York, which has 281 delegates. Unmarried women make up more than 26 percent of New York’s population, according to Women’s Voices, Women Vote.

Illinois Sen. Obama invested $750,000 to advertise in New York state in the week before Super Tuesday, Ad Age reported, and Clinton quickly followed with a $700,000 ad campaign in New York City.

A Feb. 2 poll from Marist Poll for Public Opinion and WNBC, a New York TV station, showed Clinton leading New York with 54 percent and Obama with 38 percent. Undecided voters made up 8 percent.

On Monday, new national data by CNN and Opinion Research Corp. showed Clinton’s lead slipping and the two candidates locked in a virtual tie. Conducted Feb 1-3 with a margin of error of 4.5 percent, the poll shows Obama with 49 percent of nationwide Democratic support; Clinton with 46 percent.

Obama Lures Women

Over the weekend, 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.

At the same time the Obama campaign targeted women with a series of weekend events and activities.

The New York Obama for President chapter hosted a “ladies night” phoning session Feb. 4, calling women in the state to remind them “a vote for Obama is a vote for women.” A Feb. 4 house party in Spanish Harlem welcomed women to discuss Obama over cookies and cocktails.

The Feb. 2 “Women for Obama” rally, meanwhile, drew about 500 people to hear a number of New York City women express their support for Obama as the crowd cheered “Obama ’08, New York State.”

One speaker, Baptist minister Sylvia Kinard-Thompson, urged supporters to call neighbors, friends and “school chums” to tell them to vote in the primary.

“I’m sending out e-mails as soon as I get home, making it personal,” one woman in the crowd, Pamela Junior, told Women’s eNews.

Another speaker, Helen Diane Foster, a New York City Council member, told the crowd they could prove that New York “isn’t her state, this is a Barack Obama state.”

Clinton Formidable in New York

Judith Russell, an American politics professor at Columbia University who served as a fundraiser and adviser to Clinton in her Senate campaigns, says the Clinton campaign has never taken New York for granted. “She is the formidable candidate in New York, but of course she’s going to have to fend for her home state.”

Clinton’s staffers were at phone banks and rallies on Saturday in New York City’s Union Square, where Fran Drescher spoke at a “Stand Up For Hillary” afternoon event. Volunteers canvassed apartment buildings and staffed phone banks. In Brooklyn, Clinton supporters distributed leaflets at doorsteps, saying, “Just remember to vote for Hillary, OK?”

Democratic primaries, unlike Republican winner-take-all rules, allot all delegates proportionally. This means candidates can garner a substantial number of delegates in New York without winning the whole state. This also applies in Illinois, which Obama represents in the Senate and where Clinton grew up.

Clinton is campaigning less heavily in Illinois than in New York, where her campaign had 76 house parties on Feb. 2 alone.

“They will be in each other’s territory very selectively,” says Susan Carroll, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, who adds that this level of campaigning is less likely in Illinois. “They’re not going to go everywhere. They’re going to the districts where they can walk away with some delegates.”

Clinton has nurtured a relationship with New York voters for nearly a decade, including investing time visiting personally with upstate and rural residents. She was re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 with 67 percent of the vote.

But Obama has been making steady inroads.

In a September appearance at a rally near New York University he drew a crowd of about 24,000, many of them female college students, who blocked streets to distribute Obama stickers and register new voters.

Endorsement Battles

Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Jan. 28 endorsement of Obama, which followed that of his formerly nonpartisan niece Caroline Kennedy, also cut into female support for Clinton.

On the day of Kennedy’s endorsement the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women blasted Kennedy in a press release for “the ultimate betrayal” of women. But the national NOW quickly issued their own statement calling Kennedy “a friend of NOW, and a leader and fighter for women’s civil and reproductive rights.”

The WNBC/Marist poll reported one-third of Democrats were more likely to support Obama after the endorsement, but nearly as many were less likely and 37 percent said the endorsement would not affect their vote.

Carroll says Obama wants to garner more support from older voters, particularly women, but is also focusing on mobilizing “weak Democrats” who haven’t voted in the past.

She says Clinton has been trying to shore up her appeal to young voters. “They’ve been an important constituency for Barack Obama.”

In New York, as in South Carolina where polls showed that Obama won 78 percent of African American female voters, minorities make up a large portion of the female population.

“In this state, it’s going to be interesting to see if they break as strongly for Obama in New York as in South Carolina,” Carroll says.

Alison Bowen is a New York City-based reporter covering the presidential campaign for Women’s eNews. Her work also appears in the New York Daily News.

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