Election 2008

Women Shake Up the NH Primary Predictions

Thoughtful, undecided female NH voters rock the primary.
A survey released by Lifetime/Zogby at the end of December and targeting New Hampshire women voters specifies a significant problem for those who would predict the primary outcome: more than 40 percent are undecided as to who will get their vote. The Iowa caucuses indicated that, on the Democratic side, the female populace will lead the primary elections. As all eyes in the nation turn to New Hampshire this Tuesday, we can be certain that some more women have made up their minds as it gets down to the wire, but there are still many undecided voters.

The Every Woman Counts campaign, a nonpartisan effort led by Lifetime Television and made up of roughly 15 million women nationwide, sponsored an "If I Were President" breakfast forum in Manchester this past Saturday. Representatives and supporters for some of the campaigns came to try to convince a roomful of more than 200 undecided women which of the candidates to choose. The many speakers included editor-in-chief of Redbook Stacy Morrison, co-chair of the Obama New Hampshire campaign Mary Rauh, Republican political consultant Mike Murphy, and Elizabeth Kucinich.

Every Woman Counts has three goals, emphasized by Meredith Wagner, the executive vice president, public affairs, for Lifetime Networks. They want to get more women to register, because in the last election 35 million women eligible to vote did not exercise that right.They also want to encourage women to run for office, a step their poll showed that fully 82 percent of women have never considered taking. Last, they want to bring issues women really care about to the forefront. This final goal will be advanced in the coming year with commercial spots recorded by Queen Latifah, who has interviewed women to ask them what they would make possible if they were president.

Some women don't realize that in this political era, they have a communal voice more powerful than ever. "The most political statement you make is how you live your life everyday," Redbook editor Morrison said to the crowd. More and more women, particularly younger ones, seem to be realizing the significance of their voice. It can be heard through women who share their stories, like Carol Shea-Porter, the first woman elected to Congress from New Hampshire, who was present at the breakfast and spoke about winning a campaign on a small amount of money.

With strong female role models in the political spotlight, why have so many New Hampshire women still not made up their minds on whom to vote for? They know which issues are close to their hearts. The poll shows that Iraq and health care are more pressing to New Hampshire women than education, the economy and preventing violence and sexual assault, all of which were high up there for women nationally.

Still, a lot of young women find it overwhelming to pick and choose.

Cristina Sakowich, a young elementary school teacher, says she's undecided because candidates have so many talking points that she becomes "bombarded" and needs a way to sort it out. She does know that she's leaning more towards the Democratic candidates, even though she began as a Republican. What made her change her mind? She says it's because of working in an urban, low-economic community.

Given the demonstrated public desire for change, switching party affiliations isn't unusual. What's perhaps the most intriguing is to see if Obama's victory in Iowa, where 57 percent of the caucus voters were women, will happen again in New Hampshire. The same Lifetime/Zogby poll showed that Clinton leads Obama in the state 39 to 25, but it also said that the "Iowa Effect" could change things, with, overall, one out of every four voters saying she would change her mind if her candidate didn't win in the caucuses. More than 40 percent of those who supported John McCain and Mitt Romney in the Republican primary said they would switch based on the Iowa outcome.

Republican political consultant Murphy says that Obama getting more votes shows that women "discern" the candidate they want to vote for rather than voting for Clinton only because she is a woman. He claims that "the woman's vote is frankly the most powerful now in America" and that they could largely determine the outcome of the election. Martha Burk, a senior advisor to Bill Richardson's campaign, didn't hedge her bet on Saturday morning. Women, she said, "will elect the next president of the United States."
Michele Filgate is a writer and a former broadcast associate for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, where she found stories and helped produce Steve Hartman's Assignment America, a weekly feature segment. She has written for Couric & Co, CBSNews.com, The Brooklyn Rail, and The Salem News. She is currently in charge of author events at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and also a freelance writer.
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