What do Women Voters Want?

This is cross-posted from toledolefty

I was fortunate enough to attend BlogHer 2007, a conference for women bloggers this past weekend. My favorite session of the weekend was "Earn Our Votes: What Questions do Women Bloggers Want Candidates to Answer in Election 2008?" You can read a liveblog of the session on the BlogHer website to get a taste of the discussion.

The session was intended to be nonpartisan, or at least bipartisan. It featured information on women's voting patterns and attitudes from Republican strategist Sarah Simmons and progressive analyst Anita Sharma. Both women were dynamic, engaging speakers. There were some big names in the room: NOW president Kim Gandy, Ramona Oliver representing EMILY's List.

Though all the candidates were invited to send representatives, only the Clinton and Edwards presidential campaigns had anyone in attendance. It surprised me that other campaigns missed the opportunity to talk to a group of engaged, activist women.

As Jennifer Pozner from Women in Media and News commented, there are a lot of misconceptions about what women voters think based on conventional wisdom. Women care a lot about policy. Despite popular notions, most of us are not just voting for candidates based on personality or other superficial characteristics. We want to know where they stand on issues that matter to us.

Online discussions on BlogHer
and surveys were used to settle on four key issues for the breakout sessions: Health care, the environment, Iraq, and America's economic future. I chose to sit in on the environment session both because of my interest and because it was the smallest group. We were supposed to settle on three "burning questions" that would be submitted to all the campaigns from BlogHers Act in an effort to engage the campaigns on issues that interest women voters.

The Edwards campaign did more than just send a staffer to the session. The highlight of the conference for me and for many of the other women I talked to was the closing keynote by Elizabeth Edwards. I especially liked that instead of a speech, the session began as a conversation between her and BlogHer founder Lisa Stone and then expanded to include questions from the audience at large. Ms. Edwards seemed to answer all the questions thoughtfully and from the heart.

At times, she differentiated between her own opinions and the positions of the John Edwards campaign. For example, she supports gay marriage but her husband does not, though he does support civil unions. I appreciate that she maintains her right to speak publicly on how her opinions differ from the positions of the campaign and isn't led by some misguided sense of "message discipline" to stifle her own thoughts and personality.

You can view video from the keynote and read more question-and-answer on a special thread on the BlogHer website.

After the keynote, Ms. Edwards attended the cocktail party afterward, which meant that many lucky women bloggers had the chance to meet her, talk to her, and shake her hand. I was thrilled to get a chance to talk with her for a few precious moments. When I asked why she thought the other presidential campaigns, especially Obama's, hadn't sent anyone, she graciously suggested, "It must just have been an oversight." I told her I supported her husband in the last campaign and said I'd love to talk with her if she was ever in Toledo. I hope that no matter what happens with the campaign, that this smart, articulate, and personable woman continues to work in the public sphere for as long as she can. One thing I think women voters want is to have more women's voices speaking out for positive change.

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