Election 2000: The Year of the Working Woman
Working Woman magazine, November 1999
In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Elizabeth Hanford Dole
wanders a summer fair on the Fourth of July weekend, stepping around blankets and picnic baskets, coolers and baby strollers. As she stoops to greet the day-trippers camped in front of a shorefront concert stage, a quiet buzz begins to circulate through the crowd.
“Look who it is,” one woman whispers to her boys. “See that lady? She could be the next president of the United States.”
Before long, Dole becomes a pied piper of sorts, trailed by a bevy of women in their 30s and 40s, many with young daughters in tow. They want their daughters’ pictures taken with the candidate, and the Dole campaign, equipped with a Polaroid camera, is only too happy to oblige.
Sheila Marchese, a trim brunette in shorts and a tank top, explains that although she’s not really political, she’s thrilled by the Dole candidacy. It matters to her that Dole is a woman. “I think it’s awesome,” she says. Her 11-year-old daughter, Lisa, stands by her side, eyes as big as saucers as she watches Dole work the crowd. “I wanted to be the first woman president,” she says.
Outside the East Side Senior Center in Utica, New York, a raucous gathering awaits the emergence of Hillary Rodham Clinton from the third stop on her “listening tour” of the Empire State, where she is expected to launch a bid for the Senate. Though most of the heavily female crowd is there to welcome here, well-wishers compete for attention with protesters, most of whom are antiabortion, some of whom simply resent Clinton’s contemplation of a bid to represent a state in which she has never lived.
Inside, Clinton signs autographs after an hour-long question-and-answer session in which the senior citizens of Utica, a Rust Belt city that has seen better days, have held forth on issues ranging from Medicare to economic development. Grandmothers shove their granddaughters toward the First Lady, urging them to shake the hand of the woman who could be New York’s first female senator.
On the sidewalk across the street, a shouting match has erupted between a petite African-American woman and a beefy white man holding a sign that reads, “Listen, Hillary: Go Home!”
The woman, Betty Green, 41, is accompanied by her aunt, daughter and granddaughter. Melissa Green, a 22-year-old certified practical nurse, is firmly in her mother’s camp. Full of fire, Melissa hopes to make her way through the medical education system (next on the agenda is becoming a licensed practical nurse) and ultimately go to med school. For her, Clinton’s gender is crucial. “I think that a woman is more open to the opinions of others,” she says. “Only a woman can understand the situations of all people—being a mother, a wife, a career woman.”
The career woman. She may be the single most important constituent in the 2000 election cycles, though she is rarely mentioned by name. Instead, the rhetoric circles around her, relegating her to other demographic camps into which she may fall: soccer mom, baby boomer, and suburbanite, to name a few. Yet if you examine what is known about the agendas of the top contenders for national office—male and female—you’ll find the issues they tout score highly with career women, beginning with education and economic development. What’s more, because the career woman (as with women in general) has traditionally participated less in the political process than her male counterpart, she represents an untapped source for political fund-raising and organizing. All of which begs the question: Is Election 2000 the Year of the Working Woman?
“I think that’s right on,” says Anne Mosle, vice president for women’s policy and programs at the Center for Policy Alternatives, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. “And it’s especially true when you look at the working woman as an entrepreneur—and you can be an entrepreneur working within a structure—as women work both within the economic system and work at building a new one.”
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake concurs. She sees working women (especially married women with children) at the intersection of the most coveted voter groups: suburban voters, female voters, and swing voters.
“Fifty percent of the vote is in the suburbs now,” Lake notes—precisely where career women are likely to live. “An even higher proportion of the swing vote is there,” she continues. “And then it’s also a year when the gender gap will be very important.”
Over the past two election cycles, the gender gap has been a crucial factor, providing the margin of victory for both the last presidential and New York senatorial elections. In 1996, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole early broke even on the male vote (43 percent for Clinton, 44 percent for Dole), while Clinton enjoyed a 16-percent lead among women. In the 1998 Senate race, the results were even more stark. Incumbent Alfonse D’Amato, the Republican, lost among women by 19 percent to then-Representative Charles Schumer.
Yet the gender gap tells only part of the story of the Year of the Working Woman. The rest can be seen in the campaigns of our two most famous career woman candidates: Mrs. Clinton, the Democrat, and Mrs. Dole, the Republican.
Though pundits occasionally grouse that these women achieved their celebrity through marriage, there’s no refuting the claim that they both have careers they staked out on their own: Dole as a two-time cabinet secretary and former president of the American Red Cross, Clinton as an activist for a host of social issues and a lawyer who supported her family while her husband chased his political dreams (among other things).
Career women see themselves in the transitional figures of Clinton and Dole—women who’ve paid heavy dues in often hostile environments for their moments in the sun. They understand the dual role of spouse and power-house. Business-savvy, career women get that politics has become a market-driven as the rest of the culture, that it can’t hurt to bear a brand name. (Just look at the presidential candidates—Bush and Gore.)
None of this is lost on the former cabinet secretary or the First Lady, whose muted pantsuits mirror the uniform of today’s career woman. The issues most frequently addressed by both women speak loudly to working women, even if the pitch is less than explicit, for fear of alienating male voters. At a press conference announcing the formation of Clinton’s exploratory committee, Working Woman asked the First Lady whether the topics of her listening sessions with upstate New Yorkers—education health care, and economic development—were chosen for their resonance with women voters.
“These are issues that I have worked on and been concerned about all of my adult life,” she said. Specifically, she noted that her activism on behalf of children and families dates back to her law school days and cited the successful education reform effort she initiated in 1983 while first lady of Arkansas. She’s had ample opportunities, she continued, “to think hard about how we create good jobs and how we provide people the skills in a changing economy to be able to take those jobs.”
Elizabeth Dole also dodged our question. “We’re delighted to have a lot of women supporters,” she explained during a brief break in a long day of campaigning, “but I’m not running because I’m a woman. And I really don’t want people to vote for me because I’m a woman; I want them to vote for met because I’m best qualified.” She went on to cite her “30 years’ experience in dealing with tough issues” and was quick to note that the Red Cross “would be number 600 on a “Fortune 600 list.” Still, when asked a month later to explain her surprisingly strong showing in this summer’s Iowa straw poll, Dole credited her “invisible army” of newly energized voters: women.
The working woman’s agenda
Since 1992, the Center for Policy Alternatives has compiled data for its Women’s Voices project, which tracks trends and issues important to female voters. In its most recent polling (conducted in 1996), the project reported that 83 percent of U.S. women respondents in a random telephone survey say they work full-time outside the home, and that two-thirds of working women say they earn half or more of their family’s income. Among women who work outside the home, 43 percent define themselves as career women. Most interesting is that, while a majority of these women identify themselves as Republican, the issues they care about—and the issues to which candidates who want their vote most speak—don’t break down along party lines. Working women are, in essence, emerging as a new voting bloc with an agenda all their own
“Career women’s top issue is education,” says Lake, whose firm, Lake Snell Perry & Associates, conducted some of the polling, as did American Viewpoint, the firm of Elizabeth Dole’s pollster, Linda DiVall. Though the issue is a natural for mothers, it’s not just their children’s education that concerns them, the pollsters found. Women see government support for education as the means to keep the economy healthy, as the way to ensure a viable labor force for their communities.
For Clinton, the issue is an easy one to trumpet; her party has always championed a federal government role in education. For Dole, who takes her party’s stance on limiting federal involvement in education, the issue demonstrates some of the tension between the working woman’s agenda and that of the traditional GOP voter.
“We actually polled on that,” Lake explains, “and we said, ‘Do you support a federal role in education?’ And the career women overwhelmingly said yes, by three to one.”
Entrepreneurial opportunities are also a key issue for this emerging voting bloc, says Mosle, whose Women’s Voices project found that four in 10 women either own their own businesses or would like to—and that event the 50 percent who aren’t headed down the entrepreneurial path believe government should do more to help small businesses get started. This is an area where Mosle sees an opening for a serious economic agenda that focuses not only access to capital and credit for women who are interested in starting businesses, but also on ways for women-owned businesses to tap into government procurement and contracting opportunities.
“Women are 53 percent of the electorate, 51 percent of the population, and, at the federal level, they get 2 percent of government contracts,” Mosle says. “There’s something out of whack there.”
Sufficient time for balancing family and work is another major concern for women, Lake adds. Until four years ago, she says, it was a priority mostly for career women; now all women rank time ahead of money in terms of what they need most for their families. Indeed, the 1996 Women’s Voices polling found that 80 percent of women would swap a job with more pay for one that offered time-oriented benefits: family leave, flexible hours, and help with child care. Again, there was only a slight difference between Democratic and Republican opinions.
Other priorities for women include the preservation of Medicare and Social Security, as well as new federal initiatives for health care, long-term income security and gun safety. Elizabeth Dole’s support for certain gun control measures—which ‘for a Republican candidate in a primary race is unheard of,” Mosle says—is clearly an attempt to reach out to women voters.
In a small multi-purpose room at the Bassett Health Care Center in Cooperstown, New York, some 200 members of the media are growing restless after waiting 45 minutes for the First Lady to commence her next wonk-a-thon. The reporters, photographers, and videographers far outnumber the 75 or so health care professionals assembled to join in on the listening. A dark-haired woman with an air of annoyance strides confidently through the sea of reporters, and a buzz kicks up throughout the room. “Mandy, how ‘bout a few words?” a reporter asks, resignedly, anticipating a look that says, “Not in this life.” His anticipation is rewarded.
Mandy Grunwald, 41, entered the national consciousness as one of Bill Clinton’s wunderkinder in the 1992 presidential race. She worked in the White House as a presidential adviser until 1995, when she left to work on other campaigns, such as the successful 1996 gubernatorial bid of Jeanne Shaheen, the first female to hold that job in New Hampshire. The daughter of Time magazine’s former managing editor, she grew up surrounded by A-list journalists and politicians. Today, she represents a new breed of career woman—the political professional.
Because she is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s media strategist and all-purpose political counselor, everyone wants a few words from Grunwald. But Mandy’s not talking. As her a question about Clinton’s policy positions for New York, and here’s what you get: “Well, I can’t talk about the future because she isn’t talking about it yet…She is listening to people; she’s not laying out an agenda. I can talk retrospectively about the kinds of issues she’s been involved with for 30 years.”
There’s little doubt among the scribes that this “listening” thing (in which the First Lady asserts no official positions for a campaign that at press time, isn’t yet a campaign) bears all the markings of a Grunwald/Clinton style “rollout,” a long tease of support-building for a controversial political personality.
Grunwald’s ascendancy in politics is mirrored by the growing number of female campaign professionals populating the political landscape—the women behind the women and men who seek to lead the nation. Just look at the presidential campaigns. Bill Bradley’s senior pollster and finance director are both women. Al Gore has appointed women to several key posts in his campaign: deputy chair, chief of staff, and director of policy coordination. And George W. Bush’s deputy finance manager, chief foreign policy adviser, and political director are all women.
When Elizabeth Dole hired pollster and strategist Linda DiVall, she tapped the wisdom of a political pioneer. The 47-year-old founded American Viewpoint in1985, a time when women were just beginning to increase their political presence. As the first woman to start a polling firm for Republican candidates, she has often been a lonely voice, urging GOP leaders to acknowledge the importance of the female vote.
Despite the respect accorded her by such high-profile clients as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Senator Fred Thompson, she’s endured taunts from the right. Chuck Cunningham, former national operations director of the Christian Coalition and now a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association (NRA), blasted Dole for hiring DiVall, whom he calls “the left’s favorite Republican pollster.”
But in Election 2000, DiVall may well get the last laugh. Not only Dole, but also frontrunner Bush, appear to be crafting heir campaign approaches around open policy memos penned by DiVall on how to close the gender gap. DiVall argues against espousing the GOP’s hot-button rhetoric that condemns abortion, the Department of Education, and gun control. It’s pronouncements like these, she contends, that give the party a reputation for intolerance and turn off women voters.
Dole’s approach is to depart from party dogma on selected issues such as gun control, while putting a positive spin on such conservative positions as local control of education and deregulation of business. Bush, who appears to be catering more to the party’s traditional male base, still includes in his speeches ways to make government contracts more available to small-business owners, and touts his record of improved education and health care in Texas. Both candidates soft-pedal their anti-abortion positions.
Already, Bush and Dole are polling better with women than Democratic frontrunner Al Gore, a fact that hasn’t escaped DiVall’s notice. (Celinda Lake doesn’t see Gore’s poor showing with women as a gender problem, though. She points out that he’s doing far worse among men.)
Says DiVall, “It certainly shows that Republicans, if they work hard and understand the women’s vote--in terms of both issues and communications, and the personality of the candidate--have a definite opportunity to maximize their vote with women. And that’s not something they should hide from.”
All this attention to working women’s concerns, however, won’t mean much if women don’t fill candidates’ coffers. Money is the mother’s milk of politics, and, indeed, the influence of campaign donors has a long history of shaping the law of the land. Yet as women have stepped up their political participation, their financial involvement has traditionally not followed suit. This year that trend is changing, with working women leading the charge.
”Clinton Supporters Eye $25 Million Campaign for New York Seat,” shouted a headline in the Washignton Post this summer. That may well be what it takes to win an election in New York, but it’s a hefty sum for someone who just started a campaign fund in the past year. Should the First Lady’s supporters manage to raise that amount, it will be done with plenty of help form women campaign professionals and business owners.
Among a group of power players assembled at Clinton’s first Senate fund-raising meeting in July were a number of “low-key political newcomers,” reported the Post, mainly women who not only agree with Clinton’s stand on family issues but also are determined to have a role in ushering the first woman into a New York Senate seat.” High-powered women in attendance included Sharon Patrick, president of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (No. 83 on the Working Woman 500 list of the nation’s top women-owned businesses); Geraldine Laybourne of Oxygen Media; and Beth DeWoody of Rudin Management Co., a major player in New York real estate. They were joined by Washington lobbyist Liz Robbins and Maureen White, a veteran Democratic activist. Gabrielle Fialkoff ahs been named finance director of Clinton’s exploratory committee. “This is being driven by women,” Fialkoff confirms. “My finance committee is mostly women, many of whom have never participated so directly in politics before.” To make her point, she rattles off a list of fund-raising events, including a roundtable of professional women tentatively scheduled for this month, and a working women’s breakfast slated for December.
For Elizabeth Dole, too, women are opening their purses. Ever since George W. Bush jumped into the race and rapidly filled his war chest with an unprecedented $37 million by the second quarter of this year, Dole has been blocked from the usual party funding sources, as well as the media spotlight. But when it became apparent that, despite her yeas of campaigning for GOP candidates, the traditional funding base of the Republican Party wasn’t about to buy Dole even a cup of coffee, she didn’t get mad; she forged a new path that she hopes will get her even.
Outside the office of a New Hampshire realtor, Elizabeth Dole is holding forth before a lone camera crew when Working Woman catches up with her. After concluding her television interview, she summons this reporter to her side. She wants Working Woman readers to know that career women are playing a central role in keeping her campaign afloat. She especially wants us to know about her campaign finance director, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, president of Pace Communications in Greensboro, North Carolina, who placed in the top half of the Working Woman 500. (“She’s 154th,” Dole says.)
Dole was quick to notice McElveen-Hunter’s strong record raising money for such organizations as the United Way. “And I said, ‘Bonnie, it’s not so hard to convert that to political fund-raising, you know?” Dole explains. “And she said, ‘All right, let’s go for it.’”
So far, Dole’s strategy is working. Though women typically lag far behind men in campaign contributions (making up only 25 percent of campaign donors), almost half of Dole’s checks have come from women, according to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group that follows election financing. At the beginning of her campaign, Dole’s quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission showed her ranking dead last in fund-raising among the major Republican presidential contenders. Figures for the second quarter of 1999 still show her far behind Bush, but, with $2.8 million, she was tied for second place with Steve Forbes in terms of money raised from outside sources. (Forbes’s personal contributions bumped his total ahead of Dole’s.)
”Well, obviously, when you have one candidate who has raised $37 million, you have two things you can do,” DiVall says. “You can sit here and complain about the fact that somebody else has $37 million, or try to raise money from nontraditional sources to be competitive. And Mrs. Dole is a competitive person.”
When we catch up with McElveen-Hunter, she’s talking to us on her cell phone, en route to a company board meeting. Dole couldn’t ask for a more relentless fund-raiser than McElveen-Hunter, a woman who doesn’t take no for an answer. “Somebody said to me, ‘I’m already supporting George W.,’ and I said, ‘Well I’ve never seen a pair of pants with only one pocket,’” she explains with a chuckle.
McElveen-Hunter’s decision to leap into a new personal frontier of politics surprised many of her colleagues. “Someone said, you know, ‘How can you say yes to being her national finance chairman?’ I said, ‘How could I say no?’ I mean there are no second chances for first acts in American history, and this is a first act. I want to be a part of it.”
An enthusiastic woman with a rich Southern accent, McElveen-Hunter is bubbling over with excitement about the women she’s helped bring in as co-chairs on the finance committee. The list is indeed impressive: Barbara Jane Moores (No. 496 on the Working Woman 500) of BJM & Associates; Judy Haberkorn, president of consumer sales and service at Bell Atlantic; Catherine Viscardi Johnston, executive vice president at Condé Nast Publications; along with two other major magazine editors and a senior vice president at a brokerage firm who don’t want their names mentioned in print. Few of them have done political fund-raising before.
”To me, that’s what campaigns are supposed to be about,” says McElveen-Hunter. “They’re about being inclusive and inviting people into the process [by which] they, for whatever reason, have not before felt so inspired. So, to me, it’s really great for Elizabeth Dole, it’s great for the party, and ultimately—let’s face it—women’s leadership is great for the country.”