Lots of Lifetime Women Undecided, With Lots of Reservations About the Female Candidate

What will happen on primary day if 50 percent of the women voters of New Hampshire are still undecided this weekend?

On Saturday morning, Lifetime Television convened a meeting of local women. At the end of a program of speakers that included Martha Burk (of Augusta National Golf Club protests fame), who is currently serving as Bill Richardson’s senior adviser for women’s issues, the
audience took part in a straw poll.

Though the results for actual candidates were all over the map and were therefore not released–Lifetime wanted to stress that they did not consider this a terribly scientific poll–they did tell me that a full 50 percent of the 100 or so women present declared themselves undecided.

In the audience was Laura Fink, 31, of Londonderry, NH. “First I was Hillary, then I said I don’t like her stance on some things. Then I met Obama. He reminds me of Howard Dean: young, fresh. I hope the media doesn’t do the same thing to him,” she said.

Her meeting with Obama was back in early September, and she’s still committed to him–she had been canvassing for him that week. “He’s very friendly. There’s a toughness about Hillary, but he’s so gentle. And he has a heart,” she said. “We want someone to listen to us.”

Are image and perception actually as important as political consultants would like candidates to think they are?

At a table in the center of the room was Leslie Sanderson, of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua, with a teen director of the center and four young charges, two of whom are 17 but will be 18 for the general election, and two of whom were just a bit too young to vote this year.

“I’d say the woman has stronger qualifications than the other candidate,” said Sanderson. “But people say Hillary can’t win.”

But why?

“I think it has a lot to do with President Clinton,” she said. (She would not reveal who she intended to vote for; she did say that her husband claimed that Clinton was not “electable.”) “Look, she handled her husband’s affair… You can argue about that: she should have dumped him, she should have killed him–but she got through it.”

“Especially since it’s supposed to be the love of your life!” said Rocio, 16. “That’s not supposed to be acceptable.”

“My science teacher said just about every president cheated on his wife, ” said Cynthia, 17.

These women were seven or eight years old during the Monica Lewinsky hubbub–it’s somewhat remarkable that it registers at all, and that Monica still carries an emotional weight.

In the Iowa caucuses, young women voters showed no particular loyalty to Hillary Clinton, who is, on the face of things, a woman. A Lifetime/Zogby poll conducted last month said that New Hampshire women voters strongly favored Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama, 39-25–but that one in four women voters sampled would switch if their candidate didn’t win in Iowa.

There were women who were even younger at the Lifetime event, but I did not ask them about Monica. What did Emma and Rachel, both 9 years old, think of the candidates?

“Hillary Clinton wants health care,” said Emma. Like almost everyone in the state, they’d met candidates. What else stuck in their minds about the campaigners?

“That’s all I know,” said Rachel. They were feeling really shy.

What did John Edwards want?

“I don’t know!” said Emma.

And what issues would influence their vote? (They will be participating in a kids’ voting project.)

“To stop animal testing,” said Emma.

“To stop littering,” Rachel said, very serious.

“Good education,” said Emma.

“Clothes to the needy,” said Rachel.

That was pretty much it for them–but the 9-year-olds were clearly issues voters, with not a word to say about image or publicity-craft.

Lots of Lifetime Women Undecided, With Lots of Reservations About the Female Candidate