A close-up view of an Obama women's outreach event

I don’t see much evidence that Barack Obama has a problem with women voters. He leads among women by more than Al Gore or John Kerry did at the same time during their own presidential campaigns. The most recent Iowa poll shows Obama leading by six overall but by 12 among Iowa women.

(UPDATE: A new national poll commissioned by EMILY’s list shows Obama leading among women by 12. He leads among women of all age groups, but his narrowest margin is among baby boomer women. Like Digby said, Don’t put baby boomer in the corner.)

Among purveyors of conventional wisdom, however, there is still a perception that Obama has work to do among women voters, and particularly the women who preferred Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

The Obama campaign has been scheduling women’s outreach events to address this issue. Today Governor Kathleen Sebelius is campaigning around central Iowa, and one of her appearances is a lunch in Des Moines specifically geared toward women.

Last Friday I attended a different women’s event featuring Dana Singiser. She served as Director of Women’s Outreach for Clinton’s presidential campaign before joining the Obama campaign as Senior Adviser for the Women’s Vote.

Singiser wrote the Obama campaign memo on John McCain’s “woman problem,” released earlier this week.

Join me after the jump for more.

The Obama campaign is pitching these events as discussions of “economic security” rather than “women’s issues.” The media advisory before Singiser arrived in Iowa noted, “Singiser will discuss Senator Obama’s plan to provide economic security for America’s working women.” Similarly, the statement announcing Sebelius’s schedule in Iowa states, “Governor Sebelius to speak at a women’s brown bag lunch about pay equity and Senator Obama’s plan to strengthen economic security for America’s women.”

The Obama campaign wisely scheduled Singiser to speak in areas where Hillary did well in the Iowa caucuses. On August 14, she headlined events in Sioux City (Woodbury County) and Council Bluffs (Pottawattamie County), and the next day she spoke at a women’s lunch in Boone (Boone County). Clinton won all of those counties, and Obama finished third in Boone and Pottawattamie.

I saw Singiser in the Des Moines suburbs just before she headed to Boone for lunch. She spoke in the same backyard where Michelle Obama addressed Polk County women Democrats a year ago.

A show of hands revealed that about half of the 30 to 35 women attending had caucused for Obama, and half had caucused for a different candidate. I recognized two other volunteers for John Edwards and three women I know who were precinct captains for Hillary.

A social worker and well-known Democratic activist in Polk County introduced Singiser. She had been very active in the Clinton campaign and explained that she was now volunteering for Obama because we can’t afford another four years of George Bush, and because “When women vote, Democrats win.”

Singiser began by talking about her transition from working for Hillary for five years (on her Senate staff before joining the presidential campaign). If you’re wondering how she could switch to Obama, she joked, you’re not alone, because her mother asked the very same question.

She explained that the same reasons she supported Hillary are why she’s supporting Obama. Going over a few of the things Hillary stood for, Singiser added, “I trust Senator Obama to fight these same fights for me as well.” She paraphrased Obama’s comments to some 2,000 Clinton supporters in New York after the primaries. According to Singiser, Obama told that gathering what Hillary’s candidacy had meant to his own daughters, who would never have to wonder whether a woman could become president. He also noted that the primaries incited passion, which is something to celebrate even if that passion is not automatically transferable.

Singiser mentioned former Republican Congressman Jim Leach’s recent endorsement of Obama as proof that the Democratic nominee can bring together people of different partisan backgrounds.

She then catalogued the “stark differences” between Obama and John McCain on economic policy, Social Security, retirement savings, and equal pay for women. After telling the story of Lilly Ledbetter and the Supreme Court’s horrible ruling denying her legal redress for discrimination, Singiser noted that McCain opposed the Lilly Ledbetter act in the Senate.

She emphasized that the Supreme Court is not just important for Roe v Wade, but also for many other things affecting women. (Note: that was the only glancing reference to reproductive rights during this event.)

Singiser then contrasted Obama’s health care plan with McCain’s, which won’t make a dent in the number of Americans lacking health insurance. She wrapped up by saying that Barack Obama’s positions on so many of the issues important to her are shaped by the strong women in his life, like his wife, mother and grandmother. With only 80 days left before the election, there’s a lot of work to do, and four more years of a Bush administration would be devastating for women.

Singiser then took questions for about 15 minutes. Most of the questions were about Obama’s policies (immigration, foreign affairs, climate change). I asked her why Clinton supporters should volunteer for Obama, given the outpouring of hatred toward Hillary during the primaries. She deflected this with an answer about rampant sexism in the media, exemplified by commentators like Chris Matthews.

I followed up to ask about the way the Obama campaign frequently put the most negative interpretation possible on things Bill and Hillary said during the primaries. Why should a Clinton supporter now volunteer for Obama rather than for one of our down-ticket Democratic candidates?

Singiser downplayed the significance of the hardball politics during the primaries (there was “not much that happened during the primary season that I found really distasteful”) and said Clinton and Obama had incredibly substantive debates over the issues. She added that if we don’t elect Senator Obama, there won’t be a friendly environment for our Democratic Congress to work in.

After a few more questions about Obama’s policies, Singiser asked us all to keep in mind the power of women’s friendships and social connections. We may get news from the media, but we count on our girlfriends to help us make really important decisions, such as which doctor to choose for our children.

She urged everyone present to talk to their friends, relatives and neighbors about why they are supporting Obama for president, because those contacts will be more important than anything phone-bankers and canvassers can say to voters.

All in all, I thought Singiser’s presentation, like the memo she wrote on John McCain’s “woman problem,” made an effective case for Obama as the superior candidate for American women.

I am biased because she hit many points I recommend that Obama volunteers use when speaking to former Clinton supporters. She acknowledged that enthusiastic Clinton supporters may have trouble transferring that passion to Obama, she spelled out why Obama is so much better than McCain, and she pointed out that Hillary accomplished something for women by running, even though she did not win.

Singiser’s longstanding ties to Clinton made her a better messenger on all of these points than a someone who had supported Obama all along could be. I don’t know whether she converted any of the women present from reluctant Obama voters into Obama donors or volunteers, but she did an excellent job trying. I would recommend that the campaign keep putting her in front of women audiences around the country.

  • gender and age

    I agree with you desmoinesdem that Obama does not seem to have nearly the problem with women that McCain does. That said, I am very glad that he isn’t taking us for granted.

    I’m much more concerned about Obama’s problem with older people. It is great that he has managed to bring younger people into the process, but I wonder if there is a way that we can specifically address the concerns and issues of older people. People over age 60 are very reliable voters–they will vote for someone.

    • we are on the same wavelength

      Obama’s very serious problem is with older voters (men and women). Because older women tended to support Hillary disproportionately, this shows up in some polling as a problem Obama has with Clinton supporters. But I don’t know any woman under 50 who would vote for Clinton but is considering McCain rather than Obama.

      Obama’s field plan obviously calls for dramatically increasing the participation of demographic groups that favor him, but I agree with you that older voters are reliable voters. I think it’s imperative that Obama’s VP pick be someone who can help him with older voters.

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