Clinton Relies on Women to Help Make History

It's not your father's campaign, and Hillary Clinton knows it. So does Rebecca Geller.

Geller, 27, has sent out hundreds of individually personalized e-mails to friends, classmates and colleagues over the last two months, urging them to join a fundraising "block party" Wednesday evening in Washington for the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

"When people see her in person, they will see what she has to say, see how real and genuine she is, and they'll be sold," said Geller, a recent American University law school graduate.

Geller doesn't work for the Clinton campaign, but she meets regularly with a small group of young women in their 20s, strategizing about how to get more women to participate in Wednesday's nationwide launch of Club 44.

Clinton aims to make political history again, this time as the nation's first female president -- the nation's 44th president -- of United States. Cleverly, Club 44 is the hip moniker given to a series of block parties (aka low-dollar fundraisers) designed to lure young women into lending their support to the former first lady.

2008's 'X' Factor

To attract young women voters, the Clinton campaign has recruited "American Idol" runner-up Katharine McPhee to perform Wednesday night, along with 10-time Grammy Award-winning R&B artist Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds.

Feminist icons Geraldine Ferarro, the country's first female vice presidential candidate, and Madeleine Albright, the country's first female secretary of state, will introduce candidate Clinton. Tennis star and women's sports crusader Billie Jean King will be on hand, as will Maya Angelou, author of such "empowerment" poems as "Phenomenal Woman," and the autobiographical novel "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."

For only $20, Geller said, women will get to feel part of a "movement".

"With Hillary, I feel that it's not even as much a campaign as it is a movement, to be part of something historic to elect the first woman president," said Geller.

Geller alone has recruited more than 50 people to attend the fundraiser. Her efforts are characteristic of the type of political tactics the Clinton campaign is currently employing: get women talking to other women about the senator's presidential candidacy.

'Women for Hillary' Predates Campaign

"Women like to work together with other women, and so our goal was to build a network of our own, reach into as many networks as we could," said Ann Lewis, senior adviser to Clinton and part of a seven-member "Women for Hillary" campaign team.

Before Clinton announced her candidacy in January, a few Clinton insiders began secretly building an e-mail list of influential women who agreed to support Clinton's '08 candidacy.

"We called people, and in meetings we said, 'If she goes, will you be with us and would you be ready to do this and that,'" said Lewis in an interview with ABC News.

What began with 200 women on the day Clinton announced in January, Lewis said, has exploded to a large diverse network of women.

"Say you are a leader among your friends, family, workplace, book club, church group or whatever else you belong to," said Lewis. "We say, 'Send this to every member of your book club. Get information about Hillary into the mix.' We don't tell people how to do it. We just work with them to make sure they have the information women care about."

'HillGrams' Spread the Word

Every Monday, the campaign sends identified women's network leaders a "HillGram," an e-mail with Clinton campaign updates, talking points and news about Clinton's policies to share with women in their circle of friends.

"We know from the marketing research that people feel they're being bombarded more and more with advertising, more and more they want to hear from people they know and trust," said Lewis.

This week, the campaign hosted a breakfast for women leaders with Billie Jean King, designed to create "buzz" among women for Clinton's campaign.

As part of the "Women for Hillary" effort, the campaign is also targeting Democratic female state and local representatives in key early nomination states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Last month, "Women for Hillary" organized a major rally tied to Equal Pay Day.

On the steps of the Iowa State Capitol, Christie Vilsack, the popular wife of former Gov. Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, presented two cakes: a whole cake representing men's pay and a cake with a slice taken out representing women's pay.

In New Hampshire, the state's first female firefighter turned legislator announced the state had recruited 500 women as part of the state women women's leadership network.

"Hillary's the leader on equal pay legislation, so we worked with the states and talked specifically about an issue that impacts so many women," said Lewis.

In the coming months, Clinton's campaign will roll out its affiliate business women's council, of which "Nurses for Hillary" is an example.

"The idea here, again, is to get important women to say, 'Oh yeah, I can be a part of this,'" said Lewis.

Women Vote, Women Win

The Clinton campaign's carefully crafted grass-roots political tactics to pull in women voters are designed to take the campaign beyond endorsements from national women's organizations, such as the National Organization for Women and Emily's List, both of which have endorsed Clinton's candidacy.

Clinton campaign advisers say their efforts to attract female voters have everything to do with numbers: It's estimated that women will represent 54 percent of the electorate in the 2008 presidential election, and historically, more women than men have voted in Democratic primaries.

"It makes sense in every way to build on our assets," said Lewis. "One of the biggest assets we have is there's a lot of excitement and momentum among women for Hillary's candidacy, because they see her as they most qualified candidate, as someone who has spent her lifetime working on issues they care about."

Minding the Gender Gap

There are signs that Clinton's campaign strategy of targeting women voters could pay off at the voting booth.

According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, Clinton is the front-runner among likely Democratic voters with 42 percent support, compared with 27 percent support for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who carries 11 percent.

And perhaps more significant than the overall numbers, Clinton owes her front-runner status to female Democrats: 51 percent support her versus only 32 percent of Democratic men, according to an ABC News poll released June 3, 2007.

Women's voting advocates say Clinton's tactic of trying to pull younger women into the tent could pay off.

"Younger women are more likely to be unmarried, and unmarried women are much more progressive than married women on almost every scale," said Page Gardner, founder of Women's Voices. Women's Vote, a nonpartisan advocacy group attempting to get more unmarried women to the polls.

"Focusing on unmarried women … is smart not only in terms of who they are, but these women have a particular affinity for women candidates," said Gardner, adding that unmarried women tend to believe women candidates are better able to understand their lives.

The problem, Gardner pointed out, is that young people don't reliably show up at the polls.

"Younger voters are important, but the key with them is to actually get them out to vote," she said.

Rivals Counter Clinton

Clinton's 2008 Democratic rivals are not ceding the critical women's vote to the former first lady and have begun rolling out their own outreach efforts.

In May, Edwards launched a "Women for Edwards" effort, reiterating his support for equal pay. And Edwards has hired staffer Erica DeVos to focus on women's outreach.

However, senior Edwards campaign officials concede that Clinton currently holds an advantage among women.

"Hillary has a natural advantage at this point because of her history-making run for the presidency," said Kate Michelman, Edwards' senior campaign adviser. "It's an advantage in the sense that it captures women's attention, and it's exciting."

Michelman, who spent 20 years as the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and is a well-known women's rights activist, said she wrestled with her decision not to join the Clinton campaign.

"One of the reasons I am dedicating my life to John's candidacy is because I was a woman in poverty, and John Edwards is the only candidate who truly understands what women are going through in those circumstances," she said.

Michelman said Edwards consistently talks about issues that are important to women, such as poverty, education, health care and the environment.

"I think gender will not be the only fact that women will consider once they seriously begin to look at the candidates' views," she said.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's wife, Michelle Obama, has taken up the outreach-to-women effort as she campaigns on behalf of her husband.

Last month, she held a "Women for Obama" luncheon in South Carolina with women's Baptist church groups.

Can She Win the White House?

Republican strategists argue that despite Clinton's advantage in recent polls, women will not vote en masse for Clinton if she wins the Democratic nomination and competes in the general election.

"Just being a woman candidate isn't going to be enough," said Republican pollster Myra Miller, adding that most Republicans believe Clinton would be a "formidable" candidate if she wins the Democratic nomination.

"Women are also concerned about things like safety of kids and economic security," said Miller. "What is going to be more difficult for her is explaining how her proposals and her ideas are not going to impact taxes," she said. "Women are the managers of household finances, and a tax increase right now is absolutely the last thing they can deal with."

And it's not just Republicans who say Clinton's campaign will have to be about more than making history.

Feminist author Naomi Wolf said Clinton's campaign strategy of tapping into women's networks is "pure genius," but Wolf also believes that highlighting the historic nature of Clinton's candidacy will take Clinton only so far.

"That's not a helpful tactic. It's very second-wave feminism, very old guard," said Wolf in an interview with ABC News. "It didn't energize women when Mrs. Clinton initially became a public figure."

Clinton created a stir among women's groups during her husband's 1992 presidential bid, when she said she was "not the kind of woman who stays at home baking cookies."

Wolf, who advised former Vice President Al Gore during his 2000 presidential bid, said any Democratic candidate would be better for women than the current president.

"It makes me seethe with frustration and indignation that Republicans like Mary Matalin and Karen Hughes have been so good at convincing women, because what they're doing is manipulating perception at the expense of delivering a reality that actually helps women," said Wolf, who is writing a book about the Bush administration.

Clinton's senior adviser insists that women will vote for Clinton, not only because of the historic nature of her candidacy but also because of her history on the issues.

"They see her as the most qualified candidate," said Ann Lewis, "as someone who has spend her lifetime working on issues they care about and who really demonstrates the difference that strong women can make."

ABC News' Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.