Women Voters Weigh Their '08 Options

As guests arrived at the sprawling Maryland home of Patricia and Vershan Scales Monday night, they were given a "Hillary for President" pin and bumper sticker in exchange for their contact information, which would eventually find its way back to a database at the Clinton campaign's headquarters.

About 75 people, mostly middle-age black women, showed up at the Scales' home to watch the Democratic debate — and to size up New York Sen. Hillary Clinton as a presidential contender.

It was one of 400 house parties the Clinton campaign helped organize across the country to coincide with the Monday night debate. While Clinton could boast twice the number of women-organized voter parties than were held for rival Illinois Sen. Barack Obama last month, Clinton's vision for the country wasn't necessarily accepted wholesale by attendees.

Some made their allegiance clear.

"Women have a unique opportunity to put a woman in the White House with Hillary. She's extraordinary," said Patricia Scales, a retired business owner and educator, who co-hosted the party with her longtime friend Shawna Francis Watley.

For others, the Democratic field still has some parsing to do before a viable candidate emerges from the pack.

"I'm still weighing my options," said Hilda Hudson, 39, a government worker.

Clinton Campaign Targeting Women

Scales said matter-of-factly, "Look, some people just don't think about politics and we're trying to get the dialogue going."

It's a dialogue the Clinton campaign is hoping to lead as it looks to attract women like Scales and Watley, both black, hoping they, in turn, will be able to persuade a diverse network of voters to support Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The campaign launched a major women's outreach effort, "Women for Hillary," tapping women who support Clinton to reach out to their social and professional circles on behalf of the senator.

In June, Women for Hillary held a fundraiser in Washington, D.C. With 300 women in attendance, the luncheon raised $150,000 for Clinton's campaign.

Outreach to women voters, who made up 54 percent of the nation's electorate in the last presidential election, isn't unique to the Clinton campaign.

Both Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards have made recent strides toward engaging the women voters.

But, says Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to Women for Hillary 2008, unlike Obama and Edwards the Clinton camp considers women its key voting base.

Traci Blunt, who works to target women of color as part of Clinton's campaign efforts, agrees.

"For African-American women, our relationships are based on trust so it's important they hear from women they trust about the policies she stands for and what kind of woman she is," said Blunt.

Additionally, Blunt said: "We have to find people where they are to motivate them for Hillary."

Blunt is referring to the Clinton campaign's extensive efforts to target special subgroups of women — nurses, businesswomen, young women, women of color, female politicians, etc. — to align them with Clinton's 2008 platform.

Many Women at House Party Remain Undecided

However, most of those interviewed at Monday night's debate party said they hadn't yet chosen a candidate to support and that their friends had little influence in their political choices.

"I'm not a follower. I pay attention to detail and make a conscious decision of my own," said Judy DuBose, a friend of Scales'.

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