Hillary Clinton Targets Women's Vote ; the Presidential Hopeful Plans to Stress Healthcare and Education to Appeal to Women

Article excerpt

Hillary Clinton has a not-so-secret weapon working for her as she seeks the presidency: women.

Just 12 days into her campaign, the New York senator and former first lady has made it clear that appealing to female voters will be central to her message, and not the afterthought it has been in past presidential campaigns. Already, her campaign says, young women in particular are drawn to her candidacy and the prospect of electing America's first woman president. Officials with the Clinton campaign cite anecdotal evidence from supporters and from the turnout of women at early campaign events.

Single women, now 51 percent of the female adult population, also represent a key demographic to the Clinton campaign. Her campaign plans appeals aimed directly at their concerns - including healthcare, retirement, and education - to boost turnout among a demographic that has been less likely to vote than other groups.

Overall, "54 percent of the electorate in 2004 were women; I think potentially that could go up in 2008," says Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to the Clinton campaign.

Already, polls show higher percentages of women supporting Senator Clinton than the male candidates in both the race for the Democratic nomination and in general election matchups. But history has shown that women's votes alone, long key to Democrats' electoral chances, cannot win elections for Democrats. So the question is whether, in running a campaign highly attuned to women, Clinton can avoid alienating men.

"She has to balance it out," says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Part of the balancing act involves efforts by her campaign to warm up her image, which some voters find cold and calculating. The setting for the Jan. 20 Web video announcement of her exploratory committee was a living room, not an office. She calls her campaign a "conversation," she has "chats," she "listens." She used the same approach in her 2000 Senate campaign, successfully, but the challenge now is to carry that out on a national scale - with an electorate that has seen her in action for 15 years and feels it already knows her.

Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" served up a string of jokes this week around Clinton's campaign slogan, "Let the Conversation Begin." "Look, this might not be the most politically correct thing to say, but I don't think that slogan's gonna help you with men," he began, to big studio-audience laughter.

Another part of the calculus for Clinton is that she is running to become commander in chief during wartime. …