WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–It could have been the freezing rain and slippery streets that kept supporters of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid away from the sports bar in downtown Washington, where her campaign held a party to watch the election returns in the so-called Potomac Primary on Tuesday night.

Or it could have been early warnings of the returns. Before the party had even started, news outlets were reporting that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was on his way to crushing victories in nominating contests in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Whatever the reason, fewer than a dozen people showed up to Clinton’s party at the Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, a pub just a few blocks from the White House where giant flat-screen televisions broadcast Clinton’s regional losses.

"Obviously tonight is not the best night," said Georgi Daugherty, a 28-year-old legal technician in Washington, D.C., and a "swing voter" who is volunteering for Clinton. "But this is going to go on to the bitter end."

David Jaquette is a 28-year-old attorney from Maryland who hopes that "Dunkin Donut Dems"–or lower-wage Democrats–will start turning out in coming contests to counter what have been dubbed as the more well-heeled "latte liberals" going for Obama.

Detracting further from any likelihood of a festive atmosphere at the pub was news late Tuesday that Clinton’s deputy campaign manager Mike Henry had submitted his resignation in the wake of Clinton’s latest setback. Clinton’s now former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle quit last week; she has been replaced by longtime aide Maggie Williams.

Clinton now faces "Obamamentum" as the campaign heads toward Wisconsin and Hawaii, which hold contests on Feb. 19, and then to Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont, which hold nominating races on March 4.

In the face of that, nine prominent women’s rights leaders–including Gloria Steinem; Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women; and Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation–are circling the wagons around Clinton.

‘Unparalleled Leadership’

"As women who have spent our careers fighting to protect a woman’s right to choose, we recognize that the next president will face serious challenges to safeguard the reproductive health of women," they wrote in a Feb. 6 letter circulated online. "In our opinion, there is one candidate whose leadership on this issue is unparalleled: Hillary Clinton."

On Tuesday Obama not only dominated the races but also prevailed among women, the backbone of Clinton’s supporters.

Sixty percent of all female voters in Virginia and 55 percent in Maryland backed Obama, according to a CBS News analysis of exit polls. Clinton managed to hang on to a majority of white women; 54 percent voted for her in Virginia and 55 percent in Maryland.

Clinton’s heavy defeats in the Potomac Primary come on top of her disappointment in the caucus in Maine, the first state to elect a woman–Sen. Margaret Chase Smith–to both chambers of Congress. Keeping with that tradition, Maine currently has two women–Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins–serving in the Senate.

But Maine’s longstanding tradition of sending women to high office did not keep it from siding with Democrats in Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state, which gave the majority of their delegates to Obama in their state primaries on Feb. 9.

Out-of-Spotlight Victories

Out of the presidential spotlight, however, other female politicians have been scoring lower-level wins.

In Maryland, Donna Edwards, a lawyer and domestic-violence-prevention advocate, ousted Rep. Al Wynn in the state’s Democratic congressional primary. Edwards is heavily favored to win the general election in November in the solidly Democratic district outside of Washington, D.C.

Another Democratic woman from Maryland, Jennifer Dougherty, won the right to take on incumbent Republican Roscoe Bartlett in the general election in Tuesday’s primary.

Those victories came after five women won their party’s congressional nominations in the Feb. 5 Illinois congressional primaries.

Iraq war veteran Jill Morgenthaler won the right to take on Republican Rep. Pete Roskam, who defeated another female war veteran, Tammy Duckworth, in the 2006 midterm elections. And state Senate Majority Leader Deborah Halverson won her party’s nomination for the open seat race to replace retiring GOP Rep. Jerry Weller.

The state’s three incumbent women in the House–Republican Judy Biggert and Democrats Melissa Bean and Jan Schakowsky–also won the right to seek re-election.

Women hold 70 House seats, or about 16 percent of the 435-seat chamber, not including three non-voting delegates from the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are 16 women in the 100-member Senate.

Clinton’s Record Touted

In their letter last week, women’s rights leaders noted that as senator, Clinton spoke out on the Senate floor against the nominations of conservative Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts; forced the Bush administration to make Plan B emergency contraception available without a prescription; and fought to increase federal funding for contraception and family planning services.

That letter also points out that Clinton lobbied for the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows certain employees to take up to three months of unpaid leave to care for themselves and relatives; helped found the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy; and famously declared that "women’s rights are human rights" at the 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing.

"We trust Hillary Clinton because every time we needed her by our side, she has been there," reads the letter, whose signatories include Martha Burk, former chair of the Washington-based National Council of Women’s Organizations. Burk served as presidential campaign adviser on women’s issues to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson until he withdrew last month and now backs Clinton.

Their letter provides a rejoinder of sorts to another roster of women who co-signed an expression of support for Obama for his early opposition to the Iraq war and declaring peace as an essential women’s issue.

More than 800 "feminists for peace and Barack Obama" issued a petition before Super Tuesday saying the Iraq war is as pressing an issue as safeguarding women’s reproductive health, protecting the environment and ensuring equal opportunity.

"In the coming elections, it is important to remember that war and peace are as much ‘women’s issues’ as are health, the environment and the achievement of educational and occupational equality," the petition states.

Signers oppose Clinton because she backed a "strong, enlarged and proactive military" as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In 2002, she voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq; since then, she objected to fixed timelines to troop withdrawals and voted to continue funding the war effort, the petition notes.

The letter does not mention Clinton’s September 2007 vote to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist group, a move perceived by critics as means to give tacit authorization for U.S. additional armed belligerence abroad.

Other women’s rights advocates have also signed on to Obama’s campaign, including Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro; author and historian Ruth Rosen; Ellen Bravo, former director of 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women, an advocacy group in Milwaukee; and Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America and adviser to presidential contender and ex-Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews.


For more information:

NOW Political Action Committee, open letter for Hillary Clinton:

Feminists for Peace and Barack Obama letter:

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