Democrats open campaign for women's votes Mikulski, Townsend leading effort in Maryland

August 22, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

To celebrate the 76th anniversary of women's suffrage -- and to promote the re-election of Bill Clinton -- two Maryland Democratic organizations announced a campaign yesterday to win the support of 184,000 Maryland women who dropped out of the voting process between 1992 and 1994.

The tone of the national political debate sent women away in disgust, according to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat, who spoke at a news conference announcing the campaign yesterday at the Rotunda in Baltimore.

"Women were angry and thought politicians didn't care," Mikulski said. Similar dropout rates, largely among Democratic women, were observed in states across the country.

It is her party, the senator asserted, that has the strongest claim on women's support.

"Whether it's paycheck security, health security, education or the right to choose, Democrats are committed to issues that matter to women," she said.

Strategists in both major parties say women will be pivotal voters this year.

"It's hugely important," Karen Johnson, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said recently of the women's vote.

"The election will be won on it. We truly believe women are going to make the difference in this election."

Public opinion polls have consistently shown a "gender gap" of 20 points or more in favor of President Clinton, and in an effort to keep it that way the Democratic Party has an effort to mobilize women under way in every state.

High-tech targeting, campaign-style buttons and sophisticated get-out-the-vote logistical support will be the major tools for recruitment of women, according to leaders of the two groups: the Maryland Women's Vote Project and Harriett's List, a political action committee raising money for Democrats who support abortion rights.

The stakes are high, said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend during yesterday's news conference.

"Unless we begin to talk about real solutions to the very real problems that families face, they will simply walk away from the process," she said.

Organizers say a similar recruitment effort in California by Emily's List, a national organization dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights, was successful.

In California, 900,000 "occasionally voting women" were targeted Emily's List, and more than 400,000 voted. The impact, according to organizers here, can be seen in U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's 165,000-vote victory.

Harriet's List in Maryland was named in honor of Harriet Tubman, who helped slaves escape by what was called the underground railroad. Its president, Sayra Wells Meyerhoff, said yesterday, "Women have the numbers and the power to put their candidates in office."

Sounding themes likely to be heard in the fall election, Mikulski said Democrats will argue that Republicans are not as pro-family as they tried to show during their recent convention in California.

As soon as they took over in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, she said, they "showed their true colors" and began working to cut food stamps and the school lunch program.

"Whenever they get a chance, they vote against the family and the American people know that," Mikulski said.

When women are in the fold, Mikulski said, their power will grow: "We can get them to sit their husbands down and turn them out on election day, too," she said.

Pub Date: 8/22/96

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