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Palin's Courtship of Female Voters Puts Dems on Alert

Palin's Courtship of Female Voters Puts Dems on Alert

By Erin McPike - August 19, 2010


If Sarah Palin runs for president in 2012, she'll have the building blocks of a coalition that extends beyond her star power - and even Democrats have taken notice.

From her list of endorsements, to her Mama Grizzlies' campaign-style video in July, to her Facebook message Wednesday commemorating the 90th anniversary of women's suffrage, Palin is courting female voters, the so-called "soccer moms" that have swung to Democrats in recent campaign cycles. The former Alaska governor is already eliciting responses from Democrats, who, through a series of initiatives this week, revealed some fear that she might be making an impact.

On Tuesday, EMILY's List launched a new effort, "Sarah Doesn't Speak for Me." A press release announcing the launch warned, "Sarah Palin has predicted a rising tide of mothers and women voters will support her so-called ‘Mama Grizzly' candidates. Today, we call upon women - and men! - to let their voices be heard and to reject Palin's reactionary candidates and backward-looking agenda. We're asking Democrats, Independents, and moderate Republicans who have no home - to join us in our new campaign." On the same day, the Democratic National Committee blasted an e-mail to supporters noting the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and reminding voters all that Democratic lawmakers have contributed to the women's movement.

Palin made her own splash on the subject Wednesday with a lengthy Facebook post about the suffrage movement. She weaved in seven more endorsements of female candidates, including four Republican women running for competitive House seats against incumbent Democrats, two women running for attorney general in swing states and another running for secretary of state in Alabama.

Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic strategist, noted that Democrats have begun to lose the support of independent voters, and that many women are independent voters, especially suburban women. "She's making a clear swing at them," Marsh said of Palin.

"The lion's share of independents are women," she said, adding, "you can't win without them." And looking ahead to the 2012 elections, she noted that EMILY's List and the other Democratic groups are pressing hard for women because, "you can't start soon enough to get them back."

Gregg Keller, who served as national coalitions director for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, noted, "During the span of the Obama administration, you've seen the Democrats lose some of their coalition groups one by one." He explained that Democrats first lost moderate Republicans after passing big-ticket items like health care reform, then lost single-issue voters like those supportive of gun rights, and then started to shed moderates like small business owners. "Now that their electoral prospects are worsening, they're starting to lose more of their base coalitions," he said.

Keller added, "That's why you're seeing Democrats get so nervous and skittish about losing their base coalitions like women. It would be a political apocalypse in November for them if they continued to lose women."
Beyond the 2010 elections, Palin's efforts could have an impact on her own electoral prospects if she launches a White House bid some time next year.

In her book, "Notes from the Cracked Glass Ceiling," Washington Post reporter Anne Kornblut writes that Hillary Clinton's adviser, Mark Penn, counted on Clinton securing 94 percent of young female voters in the primary without courting them. In a piece summarizing her book, Kornblut concludes: "Clinton erred strategically early on, ceding college campuses -- including college women -- to Obama. She also struggled with whether to portray her campaign as ‘historic,' debating the idea of a speech on gender for months. Focused on proving her toughness, she missed out on key endorsements from women, including Oprah Winfrey and Caroline Kennedy."

Palin has so far taken the opposite route by selling gender with her politics. None of her potential rivals for the GOP presidential nomination have made similar efforts in courting women specifically, and all of them happen to be men.

Marsh noted that the success rate of each presidential candidate's endorsees misses the point. Instead, she said, the candidates who lose - including the women she supported - will continue to assist Palin if she launches a bid.
Both Marsh and Ralph Reed, a longtime Republican strategist who's now leading the Faith and Freedom Coalition, pointed out that simply because Palin could be the only female in a field of males doesn't guarantee electoral success.

But, Reed noted, "she won't just be a big fish in a small pond. She'll be a whale in a bathtub." He added, "If every Republican who's looking at running runs, she would have a shot at making an appeal based on the rather obvious fact that she's running against a bunch of white guys." He suggested that gender-based appeals might not work in a GOP primary the way he believes they might in a Democratic field.

Nevertheless, Reed argued that Palin is offering a new style of feminism that could ignite a new coalition of conservative, professional women. "I'm fascinated by what that could mean for the future of American politics," he said.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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