- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

Maria Shriver, Caroline Kennedy and other high-profile women are backing Sen. Barack Obama instead of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who did well among women overall on Super Tuesday.

  • Photos:Super Tuesday

  • While Mrs. Clinton continues to do well and enjoys the support of big names such as Barbra Streisand as well as backing from the National Organization for Women’s political action committee, other big names remain silent or have surprisingly endorsed Mr. Obama, of Illinois.

    Outspoken Hollywood activist and actress Susan Sarandon, who campaigned for John Edwards, has remained mum about Mrs. Clinton’s prospects.

    “I think the Clintons think this would have been much easier for them and have been thrown for a loop,” says Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus. “That Susan Sarandon and some of the feminists that you would expect to be out early and loud and haven’t been, they may not consider her to be a true feminist.”

    Former NARAL President Kate Michelman this weekend switched her support from Mr. Edwards, who has dropped out of the race, to Mr. Obama, a move that suggests for some political observers that Mrs. Clinton’s one-time base is eroding as her rival’s continues to surge.

    “I think they have been shocked that prominent feminists and prominent progressive liberals have not come out en masse and backed her,” says Robert Watson, a political scientist and director of the American Studies program at Lynn University in Florida.

    But despite the loss of some big-name supporters, Mrs. Clinton fared well on Super Tuesday among female voters. She had the support of almost six in 10 white women, giving her a 20 percentage point edge with them. White women comprised more than one-third of Democratic voters Tuesday.

    Kim Gandy, president of NOW, writing in a column on the group’s Web site, endorses Mrs. Clinton and lauds her record and experience, but seems to push back on the notion that a feminist nod for the former first lady is inevitable or expected.

    “Neither women nor African-Americans are a monolithic population when it comes to voting or anything else,” writes Mrs. Gandy. “The insinuation that women owe Hillary their allegiance or blacks owe Barack not only leaves African-American women, white male Democrats, and any other minority within our voting electorate in an impossible quandary; it is a disservice to the larger political debate about who is the most qualified candidate with the strongest political agenda to lead our country — now.”

    She adds, after praising Mrs. Clinton’s background: “The fact that Hillary’s a woman — and a role model for my daughters — that’s just an added bonus.”

    But others acknowledge there must be some shock inside the Clinton camp that some big names have been tepid or quiet.

    Miss Jacobus adds that for many, especially women, Mrs. Clinton has not earned her position on her own.

    “Hillary Clinton is where she is because of who her husband is. There is just no other way around that fact,” she said. “At a time where we have so many high-profile, self-made women who have reached the heights of power strictly on their own — Nancy Pelosi, Condoleezza Rice— without the help of a husband, it’s hard for Hillary to run as someone who is a self-made woman. That’s why I think it sticks in the craw of many feminists. A number of her colleagues in the Senate have not supported her, and that is somewhat surprising. It could be because of her or because of her husband.”

    Ellen Bravo, who teaches women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says the selection of Mr. Obama by many feminists is a tipping point, led in part by what she describes as Mrs. Clinton’s “patronizing” portrayal of her challenger, minimizing his qualifications and the excitement he has engaged in many previously apathetic voters.

    “I don’t believe that Barack Obama is a magic wand. But I do think change comes from social movements and is helped or impeded by leaders,” she said. “What has impressed many of us is to see his community organizer approach of inspiring people to mobilize on their own behalf. This patronizing and minimizing that they have done has been so offensive on the part of the Clinton campaign.”

    Miss Bravo also says the war in Iraq is a women’s issue and many feminists approve of Mr. Obama’s consistent stance. “This war is eating up billions of dollars that are badly needed for everything from health care and education and support for things like paid family leave,” she says.

    Mr. Watson says some feminists and other high-profile Democrats such as Bill Richardson, Mr. Edwards and those in Congress, may be taking a wait-and-see approach before offering a full-fledged endorsement of a candidate. But while they ponder their options, he notes, Mr. Obama continues to surge in the polls and match Mrs. Clinton dollar for dollar in fundraising.

    “This is a canary in a coal mine,” he said of Mrs. Clinton’s support from women. “This is pointing to something much deeper, a much more serious issue here that maybe a lot of feminists of her era don’t think she can win or are just concerned about the quality of the candidate. I think her campaign absolutely did not think this could happen. Who would have thought?”

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