DENVER-- Swilling coffee at an Emily’s List briefing and breakfast this morning, I was reminded repeatedly that poor Mark Warner will probably be an afterthought tonight. Today is ladies' choice at the DNC—a slew of female elected officials are speaking shortly, culminating in the much-anticipated address by Hillary Clinton to her wounded warriors. At the Colorado convention center, the EL leadership makes it clear that beyond those stars at the podium tonight, there are many more amazing, talented, dedicated Democratic women running up and down the ticket across the country. That’s wonderful news—but who cares?
Ironically, it seems—not women. The number-crunchers at the discussion pointed out as much: Women voters are moderately invested in the presidential race, with over 60 percent thinking that this election will affect or change the issues that “matter” to them. But the same women don’t think that the downticket races will have any impact. It’s a 19-point differential, and probably represents the same instinct that leaves Congress with a nine-percent approval rating, as bad or worse than the previous session--despite its newly Democratic ranks. (Which is why, perhaps, it’s unwise for Barack Obama’s ticket to run “against” Washington this year—but more on that later.) Women in particular do not see the effects of state and local elections as mattering much at all, and so do not often bother voting in those races—a fact that seems as misguided as it is unsurprising.
Emily’s List President Ellen Malcolm slows down for emphasis when she outlines their key message: “It’s not enough to vote for Barack Obama—if you want him to do a good job you have to go allll the way down the ticket.” Tracy Brooks, running for a seat from New York state, makes the same claim. Still, I wonder, will there be more wasted votes this year? Apparently, it simply cuts both ways—candidates Jean Shaheen and Carol Shea Porter, for one example, should pad Obama’s numbers in New Hampshire. His young voters and black voters could provide a boost to Democrats in North Carolina, where Beth Purdue is running for Governor and Kay Hagan faces down Elizabeth Dole.
I for one, am not particularly worried. The DNC’s women’s caucus—a comparatively boisterous second act to the morning—suggested women are their own best advocates in the political arena. The room is peopled with tambourines and tee-shirts with slogans like “Protect Yourselves, Vote Obama” or “I heart pro-Choice Boys.” (They know: I overheard one man refer to last night’s Planned Parenthood party as the “easy girl event.”) Actress Rosario Dawson is here in her capacity as co-founder of Voto Latino, a group devoted to mobilizing Hispanic voters. Her partner in outreach, Maria Teresa Petersen, emphasizes the need for women to get political, “to have these conversations with our daughters and our sons and our brothers.” Doubling down on teh Dems outreach to these voters, sleeper attendee Eva Longoria also gets a huge round of applause. She is tiny—as you’d expect—and quickly defuses expectations of a stemwinding policy appeal: “I am just representing all of the desperate housewives that are in this room.” Wild cheers go up from the quorum, and more than a few women trip toward the front of the room to take pictures.
But the biggest applause of all—certainly more than for Longoria—goes up for Donna Brazile. For good reason: She tells a doozy of an anecdote about a commentator suggesting Hillary Clinton had been suffering from PMS. “Wait a minute,” she drawls, “I know PMS—and that was not a PMS moment.” The crowd goes berserk, and she then dovetails into a long series of "real" PMS moments—which range from rising early and working hard, to going without health care, to this (odd) formulation: “PMS is a war in Iraq with no end in sight!”
Despite the ability of such events and speeches to raise the hopes of women running for office, and fuel the Democratic agenda, I get the sense that Brazile’s defense of Hillary may have been more effective at rekindling the memory of misogynistic press coverage, and the poignant sense of solidarity that buoyed Clinton toward millions of female votes. Though “Oh yes we can” is Brazile’s closing refrain (“You go girls” pepper the crowd), the reception of her last lines are telling: “My friends, let’s remember Maya Angelou,” she says. “We rise; we rise; we rise…Let’s rise up tonight and celebrate Hillary Clinton” (and here the applause drowns out what follows): “And in November, let’s elect Barack Obama!”