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Between Clinton and Sanders, a tough fight for Iowa women

January 29, 2016 at 6:45 PM EDT
Three days out from the Iowa caucuses, Democrats are weighing whether to go with the presumed favorite, Hillary Clinton, or to defy expectations by championing Bernie Sanders. For both candidates, women are a crucial demographic. Judy Woodruff reports on how Iowa’s female voters see the race.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to the race of the White House. It’s crunch time for the candidates in Iowa as they make their final push to Monday’s caucuses.

Republicans, minus Donald Trump, battled on the debate stage last night. For the Democrats, there is a last-minute push for women voters.

Judy Woodruff joins us now from Des Moines.

Judy, what’s the mood now, as the clock ticks down toward the caucuses, less than 72 hours away?


So, I did just get here last night, but I think it’s safe to say that everybody in the state of Iowa, including the majority of people here who will not be participating in the caucuses Monday night, is very aware there’s a presidential race under way. Whether they are a Republican or Democrat or something in between, they’re aware that this is a contest like no other.

You have got a tight race in both parties. On the Republican side, that phenomenon named Donald Trump has managed to up end the contest. He’s managed to, frankly, define the way other candidates are seen. When you ask people, even if they’re not supporting Donald Trump, they will talk about their candidate in relation to Mr. Trump.

On the Democratic side, what was supposed to be a fairly predictable contest, Hillary Clinton presumed to be the front-runner, has faced a really stiff challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders. And that one’s turned out to be a nail-biter too.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Judy, in nail-biters, there’s often little things that make that big difference.

Here it is, Friday afternoon before the Iowa caucuses. The State Department says there’s 22 more e-mails from the private server that she kept these e-mails in that have been declared top secret and won’t be released. Any reaction from the Clinton camp today?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Hari, they’re pretty much reacting the way they have to all these other e-mail stories about the private server that she had at her home in New York.

They are saying, first of all, that all these e-mails, whether they were received by Secretary Clinton or whether she sent them, that they were not classified or top secret at the time. They want — repeatedly, they said — and they said it again today — we want all e-mails released. We don’t think any of these should be kept back.

And the campaign press secretary, Brian Fallon, put out a statement saying this is overclassification run amok.

Having said that, it’s clearly a distraction that they would rather not were coming up right now, just days before the caucuses. Now, I want to tell you that one angle in this Democratic race that we were interested in looking at is how women are dividing their vote here in Iowa between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

So, our team spent the last few days talking to Democratic and independent-leaning women across the state.

It’s three days out from the Iowa caucuses, and Democrats here have an important decision to make.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: I need you. Get everybody you can to get out Monday night.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go with presumed favorite, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, veteran of the party power structure?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.


HILLARY CLINTON: And — and the first grandmother as well.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Or defy expectations by sending Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to the next contest in New Hampshire with new energy behind his progressive message?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Democratic Presidential Candidate: If you are a woman, you understand the history of change, the suffragette and the people before the suffragettes who said women will not be considered as second-class citizens.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Polls suggest the race is close. And political analysts here say women are a crucial demographic.

MARISSA SCHUSTER, Bernie Sanders Supporter: The fact that, yes, Hillary worked towards women’s rights, but she was also indifferent about gay rights, lesbian rights. Everything on that spectrum, it constantly changed. And Bernie never did.

LINAE BRUSH, Hillary Clinton Supporter: I would be thrilled to see a woman be president. I think it’s time past for that to happen, but that’s not a big factor with me. I want the quality of the candidate, and I think she has the qualities we need right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Clinton has made women a main focus, but they’re proving harder to persuade than her campaign expected. A recent Quinnipiac poll of Iowa Democrats likely to caucus shows women overall back Clinton 54 to 40 percent. But Sanders undermines that with his enormous lead with younger Democrats; 18-to-44 year olds supported him 4-1.

He is leading with women under 45, and that makes Clinton’s job even harder.

Twenty-five-year-old Gwen Merz is one of those women. She plays in a weekly dodge ball league just outside of Des Moines, where she just moved recently from Illinois. Merz says she has already made up her mind. Sanders won her over when he took her question at a campaign event.

GWEN MERZ, Bernie Sanders Supporter: And a hundred percent answered what I asked, and that’s so rare in a candidate. If you look at the last town hall, Bernie answered a ton of hard questions. They threw them at him, and he took them like a champ and answered them all correctly. And Hillary just danced around all the issues and didn’t have a straight word to say.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Wednesday, Merz attended this women for Bernie luncheon in Des Moines, where actress Susan Sarandon urged attendees to get out to vote for Sanders.

GWEN MERZ: Definitely a flip-flopper.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Merz said afterward she doesn’t think Hillary Clinton has credibility.

GWEN MERZ: She’s against this issue, she’s now for this issue. And so it’s like, I want somebody who has the chutzpah to back up what they say, instead of just, oh, well, now it’s popular, let’s be for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bonnie Campbell is the former attorney general of Iowa. She ran unsuccessfully for governor as a Democrat in 1994 and now works as a political consultant. She’s also a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton.

BONNIE CAMPBELL, Former Iowa Attorney General: When I was a young woman, there was no birth control and abortion was absolutely out of the question. It was illegal. That’s a battle we have been fighting. And they think — I think many young women think we have won. I think their lens is different. It’s shorter. And they haven’t hit the glass ceiling yet.

They’re still in college. They haven’t gone out into the work world and discovered that, wait a minute, I don’t get paid as much as that guy who does exactly the same thing I do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The fact that Clinton would be the first female president could improve the lives of women in ways that are hard to measure.

BONNIE CAMPBELL: I want all the little girls out there to look up and see a president take the oath of office who’s a woman and say, ah, I guess I could grow up to be president. It’s more than just how you are on issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But for many women voters in Iowa, especially younger ones, it is issues and the passion about pursuing them that matters more.

Radio Iowa reporter O. Kay Henderson:

O. KAY HENDERSON, Radio Iowa: And one of the things that Sanders has been able to do is sort of light a spark about the idea of income inequality, and he is the messenger that would be able to break up Wall Street and the monopoly and the corporate America that he rails against. Whereas Secretary Clinton has focused in a more measured way on those issues, he has been more liberal and progressive.

ERIN CADY, Bernie Sanders Supporter: Bernie Sanders really focuses in on giving everybody equal opportunity and giving everybody a chance, I really believe, and being just a humanitarian and treating people as people and not as just a statistic.

RAEJEAN BODIE, Hillary Clinton Supporter: I have gotten more politically active since I have gotten older. And, you know, I’m retired now, and I think about my life and my grandchildren’s life, and I think our country would really go forward with Hillary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Both campaigns are working frantically to make sure their supporters show up to caucus Monday night. But whatever happens, the Clinton camp has learned here the contest for the nomination may not only take longer, but also involve a tougher fight for the votes of women than they had counted on.