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The Seattle Times

Women a Tougher Sell for Obama

Shailagh Murray / Perry Bacon Jr

BANGOR, Maine - Women such as Linda Sinclair have turned New England into a potentially tough playing field for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.0210 01

Sinclair listened with rapt attention as New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at a rally in Orono on Saturday morning, on the eve of today's Maine caucuses. The 58-year-old committed to Clinton three months ago. While she planned to attend an afternoon Obama event in nearby Bangor, she did not expect to change her mind.

"She's really in touch with the common person, even though she's not one," Sinclair said of Clinton. "I think they're both very bright. But she's more solid. I think he's fluffy."

Obama drew a huge crowd in Bangor: 7,000 inside the local civic center and a 3,000 cheering outside the front entrance. Clinton's events were smaller, but she clearly was in her element, talking health-care policy to audiences of mostly older female voters, who have emerged as one of her staunchest support groups.

Traditionally Democratic women helped rescue Clinton's presidential bid in New Hampshire by breaking her way in large numbers in the Jan. 8 primary. Clinton placed third in the Iowa caucuses five days earlier, behind Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

In Massachusetts, where former President Clinton scored a big re-election margin in 1996, women also broke heavily for Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's primary. Obama had been endorsed by Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry and by Gov. Deval Patrick, but the votes of women gave Clinton one of her biggest Super Tuesday victories.

Maine should be friendly territory for Obama. Its voters are staunchly anti-war, and caucuses, which rely heavily on grass-roots organizing, have proved to be Obama's strong suit. But Clinton campaign officials are optimistic.

Maine is "independent-minded and has strong female elected officials," including two GOP senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Clinton adviser Karen Hicks said. The candidate's domestic-policy proposals, including universal health coverage and middle-class tax cuts, are particularly well-suited for the region, Hicks said. "You have a lot of women working two jobs, working on their feet, with their hands."

Clinton's habit of outlining her proposals in precise detail makes for long speeches but delivers substance that appeals to women, her supporters say. "Women really do care about substance," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a Clinton backer. Likening politics to grocery shopping, Cantwell said, "Women want to hear the list."

In Massachusetts, Clinton won women 62 percent to Obama's 36 percent, according to entrance and exit polls. In New Hampshire, she won 46 percent of the female vote, compared with 34 percent for Obama.

In Iowa, by contrast, Obama beat Clinton among women, 35 percent to 30 percent. In Missouri, a Super Tuesday state that broke narrowly for Obama, he also edged out Clinton among women, 49 percent to 48 percent, according to entrance and exit polls.

The exception was Connecticut, which favored Obama on Tuesday while giving Clinton a narrower 53 percent to 45 percent margin. One factor in Obama's favor: Democratic professionals along the New York border, the kind of "latte liberals" who have gravitated to him across the country.

"We're just not sure what's going to happen in Maine," said David Axelrod, Obama's top political adviser. "The whole region has been challenging for us."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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