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McCain Aide Sees Sexism, a View That Fits a Pattern

By Garance Franke-Ruta
A top adviser to presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain said that she believes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has faced sexism on the campaign trail.

"I think women in positions of power are treated differently, and the treatment of her demonstrates that," former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina told Portfolio magazine in an article published today. "I have a lot of sympathy for what she's gone through. A lot of women recognize she's been treated differently, whether they're Democrats or Republicans."

The timing of Fiorina's comment is intriguing, given that the McCain campaign has reached out to Clinton's supporters in a low-key but targeted way. It also comes as many Clinton backers are still smarting from the divisive Democratic primary and as a significant number say that they will not vote for Clinton rival Sen. Barack Obama in the fall.

The McCain strategy for reaching women across the aisle involves praise for Clinton and connecting with some of the newer women's media outlets, such as the community BlogHer and MOMocrats blogs, which have been invited to join McCain campaign conference calls. BlogHer has also been treated to an interview with Fiorina. Health information sites -- women are the primary consumers of health information -- have also been targeted.

Clinton "has inspired generations of American women to believe that they can reach the highest office in this nation," McCain said at an appearance today in Nashville.

Such statements appear intended to hit home for women like Gloria Navotny of Clarion, Pa., who last month went to Ohio to protest against the Democratic Party as part of the group Clinton Supporters Count, Too. "If she is not the nominee, I will not vote for him," Navotny said of Obama in a May interview. "I will vote for McCain. I will vote Republican for the first time in my life."

Obama aides cite the fact that their candidate has done quite respectably with female voters during the Democratic primaries as evidence that Clinton does not have a monopoly on the bloc's affections. Obama has won women voters in 15 states and tied Clinton in one, according to Edison-Mitofsky National Election Pool exit poll data, while Clinton has won the group in 20. (The pool has not polled in every state.)

However, Clinton's core voters -- white women -- are both less committedly Democratic and a demographic among whom Obama has had less success. Clinton won white women in 30 states -- in 28 of them by more than 10 percentage points, while Obama won in five. (They tied in one state.)

Some GOP polling shows that McCain is weaker among women voters than Republicans would like. And representatives of Democratic women's groups say they believe that Clinton supporters will return to the party once passions cool.

Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, says she sees three groups of women. The first has already transferred their loyalties to Obama. The second "are punishing folks who supported Obama" by refusing to donate to them. ("They are walking around, believe me," Wilson said.) And the third is "women who are furious" and saying they will not vote for Obama.

"In the long run, I don't think they will sit out the election because the rest of us will go get them and carry them to the polls," said Wilson.

By Web Politics Editor  |  June 2, 2008; 8:52 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Hillary Rodham Clinton , John McCain , Topic A  
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