N.H. Women for Hillary -- Still!

Washington Matters

N.H. Women for Hillary -- Still!

It's foolish to draw too many conclusions on the first day of a visit to assess the political mood in another state, especially after just a couple of conversations with an unscientific sampling of people (i.e., anybody who will talk to me). But I'm going to do it anyway and conclude that Barack Obama has a lot of work to do with women voters if he's going to win New Hampshire's four electoral votes.

New Hamphire is a swing state, perhaps the only one in the Northeast that the pundits aren't already coloring blue for Obama. It's also, you'll remember, the site of the first presidential primary. That was in early January -- eons ago for most of us -- but for many women who live here it was just yesterday. Obama came to the state fresh off his upset in the Iowa caucuses, and the polls suggested he'd win big here and the race would quickly be over.

Not so fast, said Hillary Clinton and the women who saw her as their long-awaited chance to crack the biggest and toughest glass ceiling of them all. Clinton pulled off an upset that allowed her to stay in the race throughout the primary season. Although Obama ultimately won the race, it left a lot of bad and even bitter feelings behind.

Many of Hillary's backers throughout the country still want her to be the president. That's true in states that went overwhelmingly for Obama, like my home state of Maryland. A quiet dinner with a 91-year-old friend of the family there recently turned incredibly vituperative when she attacked a couple of the other women in the group for voting for Obama and attacked all of the men in the group -- well, for being men and presumably standing in the way of women. We had blown her only chance, as she saw it, to see a woman in the White House. And for what? Some unknown guy who hasn't done anything but make nice speeches.


Well, that sentiment is very much alive in New Hampshire, where women are still smarting and holding out. In a recent Granite State poll, 53% of women who had made up their minds said they'd vote for Obama, but nearly half of all women said they had were holding back and still hadn't decided what they'd do. That means that only a quarter were behind Obama. With McCain running well ahead among men in this state, Obama's only chance for victory is to win over those undecided women.

Will they come around in the end? A supporter of Democratic Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen predicts they will. They'll come out to vote for Shaheen, who was the first woman elected governor in the state and is locked in a close race with incumbent Republican John Sununu. And once they come out to cast a ballot for Shaheen, this woman said, they'll vote for Obama, if for no other reason than they don't want to risk a more conservative Supreme Court.

Maybe she's right. But two months have passed since the nomination battle ended and the sore feelings are still there. Will three more months make a difference, especially if Obama fails to make a stronger impression on these doubters as a passable Clinton stand-in. The convention the last week of this month may help -- with Hillary scheduled to give a major address Tuesday night. But the convention could make matters worse. Will Hillary's name be placed in nomination? What feelings might that and her speech rekindle? Those are just some of the bumps ahead for Obama and it's anybody's guess how it will all play out. But if you think Hillary is gone from the scene, think again.