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Week of 10.31.08

Transcript: What Women Voters Want

BRANCACCIO: We've been covering the presidential campaign since the beginning and can I now say with confidence just who's going to win the presidency next week? No, and among the reasons are all the women voters I've been spending time with in the swing state of Colorado. There've been divided loyalties with Hillary Clinton on the ballot in the primaries and Sarah Palin on the ballot Tuesday. And lots of women voters are trying to figure out which party's promises offer the best deal for hard working moms. Alexandra Haggiag Dean produced our report.

This wild political year is about to hit its climax, and by now most Americans have picked their presidential candidate. Most, but not all.

Two weeks before the election, polls showed about 8-percent of Americans still undecided, and the majority of those, were women.

SARAH PALIN: Our opponents think that they have the women's vote locked up which is a little presumptuous.

brancaccio: Why are the candidates still fighting over women? On average, 8 million more women vote than men, and historically they decide later.

KATHERINE VINCENT: I feel like we were discarded by our own party. And a lot of us are now feeling like, now what? What do we do?

brancaccio: One of those women is Katherine Vincent. She's a lifelong Democrat and supporter of civil rights...So what's stopping her from voting for Obama?

A firm conviction that the Democrats failed to stop media attacks on Hillary Clinton —the candidate she really wanted.

KATHERINE VINCENT: The silence as they say was deafening. Not that I was against Barack Obama particularly, but I felt like he also could have spoken out and said okay, enough is enough, stop with the sexist comments, with the misogyny.

brancaccio: Here in Colorado, Vincent is one among many women voters who are still making up their minds.

Colorado and adjacent New Mexico and Nevada are the core of the new west. Lots of fast growing —not suburbs—but exurbs where the economy and the war are eroding traditional conservatism. This election, these are swing states.

If Obama wants to upend the modern electoral geography and turn blue this region that doesn't border oceans or great lakes. He has to seal the deal with this more tough-to-predict kind of voter.

Katherine Vincent is a stay at home mom married to a computer engineer who lives in a comfortable Colorado town half an hour from Denver.

But like many Coloradans, Vincent is a transplant. She grew up in Waco, Texas. Her dad was a trucker her mom raised the four kids.

KATHERINE VINCENT: You know, I, I grew up in the south and I have had many spirited arguments during my lifetime, sometimes with my own family members, about racial issues

DAVID BRANCACCIO: There are some people have been arguing that people who can't get behind Obama in some cases have a problem with a black guy running for president, but that's clearly not your situation.

KATHERINE VINCENT: I've been waiting all my life for an African American to run for the presidency, as well as a woman and it just kills me that I can't get a hundred percent behind this candidate, it's ironic, I mean all my life I've been hoping for this, but I just can't forget what happened in the primaries, and you know what? They shouldn't be forgotten.

BRANCACCIO: Though Vincent is having a hard time forging the Democrats, she is not yet sold on McCain. So she's taken the time to really listen to both candidates.

Back in August she closely watched McCain's TV ads: including this one with an ex Hillary delegate now voting for McCain:

DEBRA: Now he's the one with the experience and judgment. A lot of Democrats will vote McCain. It's okay. Really.

BRANCACCIO: But Vincent wasn't convinced it was okay:

KATHERINE VINCENT: I'm not sure if we can afford his policies during this critical juncture in our country's history.

BRANCACCIO: It wasn't until McCain picked Sarah Palin that Vincent got excited about politics again.

KATHERINE VINCENT: I'm sure he was trying to appease Hillary supporters when he did that, and it worked! I mean, we were thrilled to have uh, a woman picked for the vice presidential pick, although I don't think she's a Geraldine Ferraro, I don't think she's a Hillary Clinton, but, um, she does have her appeal.

Geraldine Ferraro is part of that very small club that includes Sarah Palin...women who've run for Vice President. When Palin first hit the national scene, even Ferraro, the dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, was pretty psyched.

GERALDINE FERRARO: I never expected that we would see a second woman on a national scene in the same election cycle. I think you celebrate the historic aspects of the candidacy.

BRANCACCIO: During the primaries, Ferraro was a passionate supporter of Clinton, and served on her finance committee until last March. Then she was quoted in newspapers saying:

"Obama would not be in his position if he were a white man, or a woman of any color."

Her comments sparked a fracas... and Ferraro stepped down from Clinton's committee.

BRANCACCIO: What happened in your view?

GERALDINE FERRARO: The black vote was—was voting for him, 95, 96 percent. With Hillary's and Bill Clinton's record on issues that affected the minority communities in this country, with their history of civil rights. It was astounding. If anybody else was in there, she would've grabbed the black vote like that. And so I said, "It's because he's black!" And I said, "That's true, it's a historic campaign." Let me just assure you, when I ran in nineteen hundred and eighty four, if my name were Gerard instead of Geraldine, I would never have gotten the nomination. I mean, I was there because I was a woman.

And in July, Ferraro said on Fox News that she was undecided if she would vote for Barack Obama.

GERALDINE FERRARO: The thing about it is I have to be convinced that what I'm doing is best for my country. And so I will look very carefully at both candidates.

BRANCACCIO: That's what Katherine Vincent is doing. Ferraro is one of her political idols, and like her, Vincent has wrestled hard with her decision.

For a moment, it looked as though the Democrats had won her back... during the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden's emotional moment recalling his experience as a single father nearly persuaded her:

JOE BIDEN: The notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to —is going to make it —I understand.

I understand, as well as with all due respect to Governor, or anybody else, what it's like for those people sitting around that kitchen table and guess what, they're looking for help.

KATHERINE VINCENT: I think he is a strong advocate for women's issues and he does feel personally about that, and you know that's the sticking point for me, even though I'm very happy that Governor Palin is in the race, and I think it's a big step forward for women, not as much as Hillary's candidacy was, obviously, but I still can't go with the Republican agenda on social issues.

BRANCACCIO: Vincent often goes online to discuss her ambivalence about this presidential race. She's the moderator on this site, "Colorado Women Count," where she debates policy with other ex-Hillary supporters.

These days they often gather in person. So in early October we asked Vincent to convene them for one of their regular pizza parties.

Katherine Vincent: But what about the fact that people say, well we're glad Sarah Palin's in there, it's symbolic - she's going to be an icon for women. But what about if something happens to McCain, God Forbid, and she becomes president, and a lot of people think she's not up to the job.

Katherine Vincent: But she did a pretty bad job at the interviews with Katie Couric. I mean I think we were all kind of surprised...

VOICE: They were edited, they were edited too.

VOICE: You feel they were edited? Yeah.

VOICE: Plus she was captain of her basketball team, and that means a lot to me.

SONJA LEWIS: Talking about her accent. I mean talking about the fact that she one has a gun in her hand. Hello. I'm from a western family.

VOICE: Exactly, it's the west.

SONJA LEWIS: If I didn't - if you didn't...As a woman if you didn't learn how to shoot a shot gun then something was wrong with you. That's just - that's a cultural thing. It has nothing to do with the fact that she's a woman.

BRANCACCIO: Most of the women around this table support Sarah Palin, but back online, at their Meetup site: "Colorado women count," other ex Hillary voters often disagree about Palin:

SHARRON CHAPMAN: You can't just toss any woman out there. To me it was insulting to every woman.

BRANCACCIO: Sharron Champman, who is another member of the site, says she learned about women's rights on the job - for 16 years she crafted tractor parts at a John Deere plant in Iowa... she moved to Boulder, Colorado 3 years ago to retire.

SHARRON CHAPMAN: People always think Roe v. Wade cannot be overturned, but it can, and it could happen. There are many Hillary supporters - many women, women —afraid that that could happen, and it would be devastating.

BRANCACCIO: To Geraldine Ferraro, these contrasting views lead her to a prediction based on what happened to her 24 years ago.

GERALDINE FERRARO: There are some people who will vote for that ticket because there is a woman on the ticket. But the flip side of that is there are going to be some people out there who will vote against that ticket who would've been McCain supporters.

BRANCACCIO: Just a month before the election when we asked these eight ex-Hillary supporters how many in the group were ready to vote for John McCain because of Sarah Palin, only two were certain they would.

FEMALE VOICE: I am.

FEMALE VOICE: I'm still on the fence.

FEMALE VOICE: I'm close, I'm real close,

FEMALE VOICE: It's a protest vote. It's hard, isn't it? It is hard.

BRANCACCIO: Some of this was informed by a revelation: one of the women had received an email alleging Barack Obama doesn't pay women on his staff equal wages.

FEMALE VOICE: It turns out his female staffers make less money than their male staffers.

FEMALE VOICE: I just heard that! And so, his female staffers, make less than McCain's female staffers. I think it's 83cents for the dollar. I just got that today on the email. I was shocked by that.

BRANCACCIO: At a rally in Nevada, Palin hammered on the same allegation that Obama pays the women on his staff 83 cents for every dollar that men get:

SARAH PALIN: Does he think that women aren't working as hard?

BRANCACCIO: Here's the response Obama's campaign gave us:

"While Senator Obama has proposed a plan to help working women, the McCain-Palin campaign offers just more negative attacks and distortions."

Obama is pointing to a policy difference with McCain. He argues that he "gets" the struggles of working women, because he voted for what's called the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Ledbetter sued Goodyear tire company for paying her 40 percent less than male colleagues. Her case went to the U.S. Supreme Court and she lost on the basis that she filed her complaint too late.

This spring, legislation to overturn that decision passed through the House. Obama voted for it in the Senate, but McCain abstained...and the legislation failed.That same day, on his campaign bus, a reporter asked McCain what women need in order to close the wage gap? McCain said: education and training.

JOHN MCCAIN: They need the education and training particularly since more and more women are the heads of their households.

BRANCACCIO: In response, Obama ran this ad:

LILLY LEDBETTER: I had the same skills as the men at my plant. My family needed that money. On the economy, it's John McCain who needs an education.

ANGELA SASSEVILLE: Training and education I think were the things that he spouted in his comments. I think that's a crock.

BRANCACCIO: Angela Sasseville is part of a growing grassroots movement of mothers who are up in arms about equal pay for equal work - and a host of other "mother's issues".

Like all the Colorado voters we spoke to for this story, she has a complex political background: she's a feminist from a religious and very conservative family.

When she was young she attended a religious boarding school, and Sasseville says that's where she started caring about women's rights.

You felt that expectations were different for girls?

ANGELA SASSEVILLE: They were often times double standards for the girls versus the boys, almost this kind of mentality that if we keep the girls on a short leash then they can't get pregnant.

BRANCACCIO: Sasseville says her second political awakening happened when she was working in human resources at a firm in Denver. She went on maternity leave, and was laid off.

ANGELA SASSEVILLE: At that point in time Bill and I would have loved to be able to find some type of part time employment that paid a respectable wage but that would allow me to spend more time with the baby than a 40 hour a week position. Those jobs don't exist. Those jobs still do not exist in our country.

BRANCACCIO: Eventually Sasseville went back to grad school in order to become self employed as a licensed psycho-therapist

ANGELA SASSEVILLE: I have some significant student loans that I will be paying off until the day that I retire, all for the cost of being able to be a Mom and have some flexibility and control over my work environment.

Brancaccio: But this is a country that believes in families and children, and supporting families.

ANGELA SASSEVILLE: Definitely not over the past 8 years, if you look at any of the policies that have been passed, they have been detrimental to families, detrimental to children, detrimental to us Moms.

BRANCACCIO: In August she realized that the policies she stands for go beyond either party's official platform. That's when she joined an online, grassroots political movement that lobbies for mother's rights called "MomsRising".

Late that month, the group staged a demonstration outside the Democratic National Convention.

MOMSRISING MEMBER: Mothers who vote, pay attention, these are the issues!

BRANCACCIO: Sasseville marched with her daughter.

ANGELA SASSEVILLE: By being part of MomsRising I would like to get more moms out to vote.

BRANCACCIO: It's a rapidly growing phenomenon. What started out as a few moms like Angela, has quickly become an army of over 150,000 members.

These moms are calling for equal pay, affordable healthcare and childcare, and paid family leave.

It's fair to say this burgeoning political movement could keep growing beyond the election. The group is pushing to change laws and it's already had some success as part of the coalition that lobbied for - and won—universal paid family leave in both Washington state and New Jersey.

MomsRising is nonpartisan, but it was clear at the Democratic Convention that some moms had decided which candidate supports what they see as their issues.

Part of that is because Obama supported MomsRising from the beginning:

BARACK OBAMA: What's missing right now is a movement. What's missing is mobilization. And that's why MomsRising is so important.

BRANCACCIO: And during his campaign, Obama has been folding MomsRising objectives into his larger economic platform:

OBAMA: So many of the challenges you face, equal pay, childcare, balancing work and family, these aren't just women's issues.

BRANCACCIO: But then, came along Sarah Palin. When the Alaska governor came into the campaign, members of MomsRising found themselves divided on whether a politician who is female would better carry out their agenda.

So, in early September, MomsRising crafted a letter asking the Alaska governor to outline her position on mothers' issues, —and 21,000 members signed it right away.

Two weeks later, fifteen women hand delivered the letter to that state of Alaska's Washington office... but they were asked to leave... and told to put it in the mail... that rankled a lot of MomsRising members.

But McCain has his own arguments why women should support his ticket. Roughly ten million small businesses are owned by women and on the campaign trail, McCain appeals to them on his own policy issues.

He argues his tax structure and his healthcare rebate will benefit women like, Laura Dekderbrun who owns a wine and liquor store in Fort Collins, Colorado.

She's a married mother of two, who is leaning toward McCain/Palin.

Were you an early McCain supporter?

LAURA DEKDEBRUN: Well, it's interesting because 4 years ago Obama spoke at the first Democratic National Convention, I was impressed with him as a speaker, and I thought wow this guy's really got a place in politics and was very favorable towards him.

BRANCACCIO: A crucial issue for many people is the issue of abortion. How does that affect the way you view candidates?

LAURA DEKDEBRUN: I'm pro choice and I think the Supreme Court established that in this country that's right now the woman's right. Bush has been in there 8 years, he's pro-life and that hasn't changed. I don't think that's an issue that we need to decide our election on.

BRANCACCIO: And as a business owner, and, yes, a hockey mom, she sees a bit of herself in Sarah Palin.

LAURA DEKDEBRUN: She is just an everyday person, and you know that's who I am. And I jokingly say they should get the lawyers and the politicians out of Washington and put someone like me in there with a little more common sense.

BRANCACCIO: And she says she detected a lack of common sense from Obama during the debates, when both candidates laid out how they'd pay for the financial bailout. And it propelled her towards McCain.

The question was how are you going to pay for some of this, candidates?

LAURA DEKDEBRUN: Right. How are they going to pay for it? They're not. Their plans —They're not going to pay for it. And it was interesting because one thing McCain said was freeze all spending. To me that's a no brainer.

BRANCACCIO: In early fall, she went on one of her regular hikes with a group of women who are prone to talking politics -mostly they're Republicans, but a couple of Independents and Democrats, too.

At a stop on the trail, we asked about family leave, and whether employers should pay workers who take that leave?

LAURA DEKDEBRUN: Yes, the person can come back after their jo—you know, for their jobs. You should hold it for them. Can you afford to pay them and somebody else to do the job at the same time? That's an individual thing.

Maybe, maybe not.

BRANCACCIO: The group discusses whether Palin will champion working moms. Independent voter Sonja Jenkins doesn't think so. She says because of the tough economic times a lot of women are struggling. She's helping to look after her grandchild ... it's the kind of challenge she worries Palin does not really understand.

Sonja Jenkins: I think that she is kind of in—environment where she has a lot of—a huge support system. And I think about my daughter who was—has a little boy, not married, lost her condo because of the mortgage—crisis. And—basically almost out on the street, with a newborn. So, when that happens, I'm not sure that she can—can be one of us.

LAURA DEKDEBRUN: I think she understands that. In—in her speech, she said, too, "And remember if you have children with disabilities, you'll have a friend in the White House." I think—think that'll happen. I think she will understand that we do need programs for young mothers and—and children—more importantly.

BRANCACCIO: A week later, early October, Laura Dekdebrun and friends are set to watch the vice presidential debate in Fort Collins. Dekdebrun has Sarah Palin's faltering interview with Katie Couric on her mind.

But watching the debate, she and her friends seemed to have their faith restored.

LAURA DEKDEBRUN: I was really nervous for the vice president debate because say the Katie Couric thing and I said oh this is going to be tough but I think again I was really impressed that she stood up and still fighting for what she believes in.

BRANCACCIO: Anything the Obama people could say that might win you over?

LAURA DEKDEBRUN: Yeah, and if Obama said we've gotta cut spending and really balance the budget, and take out a lot of —some of the government programs and things. That would make a big difference.

BRANCACCIO: Which brings us to now...days left before the election, and in many states, including Colorado, early voting has already started.

Recently, the cost of Palin's wardrobe seems to be getting more attention than her speeches. Frustrated, she's spent the last week reaching out to women for solidarity.

SARAH PALIN: I'm not taking them with me, I'm back to wearing my old clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage Alaska.

BRANCACCIO: Laura Dekdebrun, small business owner, is listening to Palin... and still leaning towards a vote for McCain. Her friend Sonja Jenkins voted early for Obama.

Remember the MomsRising women who sent Palin a letter? More than a month later, they still haven't gotten a response. So for many of them, Palin's recent appeal falls short.

And as for the ambivalent ex-Hillary voters, Geraldine Ferraro says she has a pretty good sense that in the end, they will vote Democrat.

BRANCACCIO: Time healed some of this?

GERALDINE FERRARO: I think time has healed some of it. I think Hillary has healed some of it.

BRANCACCIO: And there's Ferraro herself, the same Democrat who told the world in mid summer she's not sure how she's going to vote. She told us she's made up her mind.

GERALDINE FERRARO: I'm a Democrat, I'm going for Barack Obama because he's right on these issues, because he's—I think he's the future. I think he has a whole bunch of really good ideas that can make a difference

BRANCACCIO: And now, leading polls show Obama's ahead of McCain by as much as 15 points among likely voters who are women. The McCain-Obama gap is much smaller among men....meaning if Obama pulls it off, he'll have a lot of women to thank.

But the latest CBS News/NY Times poll still shows that 11 percent of likely voters are "uncommitted"...most these voters are white, over 45, and female. That is to say, Katherine Vincent.

KATHERINE VINCENT: I don't think I'm going to know a hundred percent how I'm going to vote until I get in the voting booth. I think this is a historic election and I'm looking forward to actually being part of it and actually standing in those lines even if I have to wait for hours. I still want to be there on election day and part of that whole process.

BRANCACCIO: I plan to call Katherine Vincent Tuesday night to find out how she finally voted and, with her permission, put the verdict on our website.

Also, many NOW viewers have been expressing concern about possible problems at the polls will the vote be fair? Learn more on our website right now, on election day and beyond.

On the next edition of NOW: We'll be looking at the outcome of Tuesday's election, and what it means for the urgent issues that we've been covering all year long.

And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

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