Ellen Malcolm greets Hillary Clinton in  2007

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–As she heads into a must-win primary in Pennsylvania next month under intensifying scrutiny of her decision to stay in the race, Hillary Clinton continues to count on help from a good friend: EMILY’s List.

Next week EMILY’s List will launch a major ground initiative on Clinton’s behalf in and around Philadelphia ahead of the state’s April 22 primary.

The group will target 150,000 women in southeastern Pennsylvania with mailings and phone messages urging them to go to the polls and pull the lever for the former first lady.

The messages–aimed at working women, older women and female college students–will promote Clinton as a more experienced candidate capable of handling the faltering economy, an issue of paramount importance in a state with a strong blue-collar base and one that played well in neighboring Ohio in its March 4 primary.

With 1,485 delegates out of 2,025 needed to clinch the nomination, Clinton trails Illinois Sen. Barack Obama by 137 delegates and faces low odds of winning a majority of “pledged” delegates, those committed to backing a candidate based on the outcome of primaries and caucuses.

Consequently, Clinton is running a simultaneous campaign for the votes of superdelegates–those free to back a candidate regardless of the nominating outcome–in the hopes that they will nudge her over the top at the national party convention in Denver this August.

But EMILY’S List isn’t letting itself get bogged down by the math. As Clinton pursues her historic White House bid, the group is doing the same.

PAC Formed to Push Women Ahead

EMILY’s List–an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast, based on the premise that early donations help candidates to raise more contributions–got its start in 1985, when no Democratic woman had ever won a U.S. Senate seat without first inheriting it from a male relative who died or resigned from office. At the time, no large state had elected a female governor and the number of women in the House of Representatives was stagnant.

Over the past two decades, the group, which only backs pro-choice female Democrats, has helped elect 13 women to the Senate, 69 women to the House and eight women to gubernatorial offices. It also supports women in state and local races.

Advancing a pro-choice woman to the White House, however, has moved the group into the nation’s top political arena.

“This is a whole new level and a whole new playing field upon which we have not competed before,” EMILY’s List spokesperson Ramona Oliver said of the group’s first foray into presidential politics. “This is breaking new ground.”

As it works for Clinton, EMILY’s List faces other mobilizations outside Obama’s campaign working in his favor.

The Boston-based New Voters Project and the Washington-based Rock the Vote, for instance, have indirectly aided Obama in states across the country by mobilizing young voters, one of his core constituencies.

Obama also has the endorsement–and accompanying financial aid–of powerful outside groups such as the Washington-based Service Employees International Union, which has a strong and influential political arm.

Coveted Endorsements

For her part, Clinton has won coveted endorsements and aid from unions including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers, both based in Washington, D.C.

But few non-union groups have gone as far for Obama as EMILY’s List has gone for Clinton.

With more than 100,000 members and a $19 million war chest–making it the largest non-union political action committee in the country–EMILY’s List and its members have given Clinton more than $323,000 in direct contributions, making the PAC among the top five highest contributors to the Clinton campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group in Washington, D.C., that tracks money in elections. The four groups that contributed more to Clinton’s campaign are business and law firms.

Ellen Malcolm greets Hillary Clinton at 2007 conference.

It has also spent $650,000–more than any other non-union political action committee–in independent expenditures this cycle, according to the center. Much of those expenditures, which are used to bolster a candidate with tools like advertisements, direct mail and phone calls, have been spent on Clinton’s behalf.

By contrast, two California political groups–Powerpac.org and MoveOn.org–have spent $300,000 and $60,000 respectively on behalf of Obama, according to a March 24 story in the Washington Times.

Meanwhile, EMILY’s List’s President Ellen Malcolm, a top adviser to the Clinton campaign, is working the phones to persuade superdelegates to vote for Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, Oliver said.

The group is also considering efforts in other upcoming primary states, North Carolina and Indiana, casting ballots on May 6.

Margie Omero, president of Momentum Analysis, a polling firm in Washington, D.C., says the group has no magic wand to wave over Clinton’s presidential fate. “I’m not sure you can say, ‘Wherever EMILY’s List is, that means she’s guaranteed victory,'” she said. “I don’t think it works like that.”

Track Record of Key Victories

But while the PAC has run programs in states where Clinton has failed to win–Connecticut and Iowa–it has amassed a strong track record, helping Clinton claim clutch wins in New Hampshire, Texas and Ohio.

“We don’t claim all the credit but we’d like to think we have been a help,” said Maren Hesla, director of voter mobilization programs at EMILY’s List.

Dianne Bystrom, a professor of political science at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, said EMILY’s List efforts–along with a sense of anger among female voters over biased media treatment of Clinton–fueled turnout among women and helped Clinton counter the Obama campaign’s strong field organization.

In New Hampshire, EMILY’S List reached out to more than 50,000 women asking them to back Clinton after she finished third in Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. In that primary female voters made up more than 57 percent of the electorate and a solid majority backed Clinton, helping her secure a 12 percentage-point victory.

Two months later, when many pundits were ruling out Clinton’s campaign, EMILY’s List launched similar voter mobilization programs in Ohio and Texas.

Portraying Clinton as more capable on economic issues, the program targeted 150,000 non-college-educated, rural and older women in Ohio and sponsored a statewide radio campaign in Texas to reach out to Latinas.

Women in both states turned out to the polls in higher numbers than they had in 2004, casting 59 percent of the ballots in Ohio and 57 percent in Texas, most of which went to Clinton. Among female voters, Clinton won by 16 points in Ohio and 11 points in Texas.

“We wanted to maximize support for Sen. Clinton and expand the women’s electorate, and we succeeded in both goals,” the group said in a statement after the March 4 primaries.

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

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].

For more information:

Women’s eNews Spotlight on 2008 Presidential Election:

“Anti-Choice PAC Targets Clinton for Early Attack”:

“Election Victories Reveal a PAC’s Rising Influence”:

“EMILY’S List Hails Hillary Clinton”:

Note: Women’s eNews is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites and the contents of Web pages we link to may change without notice.