Friends of Hillary
By: Wall Street Journal
She’s seeking women executives to aid her climb to the top. It’s harder than you’d think.
By MONICA LANGLEY
She’s the ultimate professional woman. So you’d think Hillary Clinton’s biggest source of support would be other alpha females.
But as the New York senator’s presidential campaign works to mobilize women executives, doctors and lawyers around America, it’s getting a reality check: Many have resisted the call-up. So far, she’s doing better among women of more modest means.
Professional women are “much harder sells” than men, says a Clinton campaign adviser. “They’re tough.” They are less inclined than men to see things in black and white, and seek more information before deciding, this adviser says. Events for businesswomen must be substantive, because they frequently ask more questions than businessmen, Sen. Clinton’s advisers say.
At one such Clinton event, former tennis star Billie Jean King and other supporters tried to pump up the crowd as if it were a political rally. The feedback from attendees, says senior campaign adviser Ann Lewis, was “less rah-rah, more substance.”
Dr. Janice Werbinski, past president of American Medical Women’s Association and an early Clinton supporter, says she didn’t like the New York senator’s answers in a recent conference call for female physicians. “Now I’m having second thoughts,” she says.
“I saw the same thing when I ran for Senate the first time in 2000,” Sen. Clinton said in an interview on Wednesday afternoon. “Professional women were the last to close for me.” They were not about to support her just because of her gender, she said. “This is very much in line with what I’ve seen” in past campaigns.
Among all women — Democrats, Republicans and independents — feelings toward Sen. Clinton vary with professional status, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC national poll, taken in early November. Among nonprofessionals, 52% said they had positive impressions of her, while 38% were negative. But women who identify themselves as professionals or managers were markedly less enthusiastic, with 42% reporting positive impressions, and 44% negative.
Another challenge: Professional women are naturally higher-income than their nonprofessional peers, putting them squarely in the traditional low-tax, antiregulation territory of the Republican Party.
Meg Whitman, chief executive of eBay Inc., has held fund-raisers for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Carly Fiorina, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co., supports Republican Sen. John McCain. Kerrii Anderson, CEO of Wendy’s International Inc., supports former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Overall, Sen. Clinton is doing well with Democratic women: 53% said they support Sen. Clinton, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. Sen. Barack Obama ran second among Democratic candidates with 21%.
Sen. Clinton has made inroads with women executives, and has bagged some trophy supporters. Among them: Google Inc. managers on the West Coast and Ernst & Young executives on the East coast; Minneapolis entrepreneurs and Miami real-estate brokers; Ms. King and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. Sen. Obama, however, has the backing of one of the most popular female moguls, Oprah Winfrey, who’s campaigning for him.
Businesswomen share many motives with their male counterparts for supporting presidential candidates. They back candidates whose positions they believe will benefit their businesses, in order to get access to the White House, in hopes of snaring a job in the administration, or just to be on personal terms with a president.
Perhaps because they haven’t been playing the political game as long as their male colleagues, they are sometimes less willing to go public with their support. Some are reluctant to speak out for fear of upsetting clients or customers who may disagree with their politics.
“I’m not broadcasting my support for Hillary,” says Diane Miramontes, the only female principal at her commercial real-estate brokerage in San Diego. “In venues of high-net-worth individuals, typically Republicans, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.” She is, however, distributing Clinton materials to younger women in her office, and speaks favorably of the candidate if asked.
Anne Mulcahy, chief executive of Xerox Corp., has told some people she’s supporting Sen. Clinton, but she has not said so publicly. This summer, Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Clinton’s campaign chairman, visited Ellyn McColgan, then a rising star at Fidelity Investments in Boston. She agreed to support Sen. Clinton, but left the mutual-fund company two months later, to the campaign’s disappointment.
One theory about Sen. Clinton’s weaker numbers among professional women is that more-affluent women aren’t as worried about health care, child care, the minimum wage and other issues important to nonprofessionals. But in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, professional women gave her lower ratings than did nonprofessional women in such categories as “being honest and straightforward,” “being compassionate enough to understand average people,” “having high personal standards that set the proper moral tone for the country,” and “being easygoing and likable.” Both groups gave her high marks for being “knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency.”
“Women who work on their feet — nurses, teachers — strongly prefer Hillary,” says Geraldine Laybourne, founder and former chief executive officer of Oxygen Media LLC, now a unit of NBC Universal, who’s helping the Clinton campaign. The goal, she says, is to “make visible that women in business support Hillary” in order to build that base.
The campaign is in recruiting overdrive. Already, women account for 40% of Sen. Clinton’s “bundlers” — the top fund-raisers who pull in donations from others. The campaign is counting on them to dig deep into their BlackBerrys and Rolodexes to do the kind of networking practiced 15 years ago by the Friends of Bill. During Mr. Clinton’s initial run for the White House, that group of loyalists used its clout to broaden support for him.
“We’re tapping into networks that professional and business women have developed over 20 years,” says Ms. Lewis, the senior campaign adviser, who uses media lists of the nation’s “most powerful women” to prospect for supporters.
The strategy was on display one evening last month on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Nearly 50 businesswomen gathered at a townhouse to hear Citigroup Inc. executive Lisa Caputo talk about her longtime friendship with Sen. Clinton.
When it was over, the businesswomen left behind checks totaling tens of thousand of dollars. A couple of them penciled into their calendars weekend trips to Iowa to canvass caucus-goers. Many left with Hillary buttons pinned to their suits.
“There’s a sisterhood solidarity going on here,” says Ms. Caputo, who served as press secretary for Sen. Clinton when she was First Lady.
Many of the executives supporting Sen. Clinton said in interviews that they weren’t doing so because she is a woman, but because they consider her the best candidate for the job.
Critics of Sen. Clinton say she is trying to have it both ways — to play down her gender with some audiences and to play it up with others.
“This is such a strange argument to make,” Sen. Clinton said. “When I talk with women, I talk about what it’s like to be a mom and daughter. If I talk to the armed services, I talk about how I would be as a commander-in-chief.” Different circumstances, she said, require different approaches. “Moms who work in business don’t act the same with their kids or at the office.”
The Clinton campaign is working to build an infrastructure to organize and expand support among businesswomen. The campaign says thousands of business and professional women have signed up to receive a weekly “HillGram” email summarizing events and offering suggestions on how to help — along with an inspirational quote each week.
From a cramped two-room office suite at Clinton campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va., Ms. Lewis and two colleagues, Capricia Marshall and Dana Singiser, search for names of possible supporters in professional journals and business publications, in breast-cancer awareness groups and working-mom blogs. When the campaign locates supporters, it offers to help them organize debate parties, policy breakfasts, conference calls and larger gatherings with Sen. Clinton.
On the road, Sen. Clinton carries “call sheets” with the names and numbers of high-profile women she wants to woo or thank. In many cities, she has private meetings with local businesswomen and professionals.
The campaign dispatches a female “surrogate” for the candidate to some events. The list includes Ms. Caputo, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Laura Tyson, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. Bill Clinton is an especially popular surrogate.
The corporate landscape has changed since Bill Clinton ran for president. In 1992, there were only two female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies; now there are 13. The number of women serving as corporate officers has doubled in that period, according to Catalyst, a research firm.
At J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Heidi Miller, an executive vice president, is a vocal supporter of Sen. Clinton and has raised more than $100,000 for the campaign. She hosted the candidate in a big auditorium at the bank. Afterwards, Blythe Masters, the global head of commodities, and Margaret Cannella, the global head of credit research, huddled with Ms. Miller. The three agreed to do “everything in our power,” says Ms. Miller, to help Sen. Clinton. Later, Paula Hilbert, a global client-service executive, asked to get involved, Ms. Miller says.
It’s no surprise that Beth Brooke, a vice chairman at Ernst & Young, supports Sen. Clinton. She served in the Treasury Department under Pres. Clinton. But another supporter, Kathryn Oberly, the accounting firm’s general counsel, says she never before has had the time or the interest to get involved in politics.
“I’ve gotten lots of women in New York and D.C. at Ernst & Young to support Hillary,” Ms. Oberly says. “I’ve just talked to them about why I was supporting her and how important it is to devote serious time to her campaign.” Other Clinton supporters at the firm include Sue Frieden, a global managing partner; Carolyn Buck Luce, the global pharmaceutical leader; and most of the women lawyers in Ms. Oberly’s department.
When Ms. Oberly encounters resistance, she says, “because of my senior position, I back off.” But she doesn’t give up. “I’m cordial and suggest that we talk about Hillary later.” Ms. Oberly has raised more than $100,000 for Sen. Clinton. She spends weekends working the phone bank at the Arlington headquarters and plans to travel to Iowa this weekend with an Ernst & Young colleague to canvass door-to-door and to meet with women academics. She also plans to drive voters to Iowa caucus sites on Jan. 3.
Ms. von Furstenberg, the designer, told the campaign she’ll be open in her support. “I have a very large constituency of women who hopefully will listen to what I say about Hillary,” she says. This winter, she says, she plans to hold a fashion event for Sen. Clinton.
Judy McGrath, chief executive of MTV Networks, hosted an event for Sen. Clinton at MTV’s parent company, Viacom Inc. Sheryl Sandberg, one of the highest-ranking women at Google, has held and attended dinners for Sen. Clinton, and she hosted the candidate before hundreds of women at the technology giant’s auditorium for an event called Women@Google.
Oxygen’s former chief executive, Ms. Laybourne, hosted a cocktail party in her Manhattan apartment for women in media, including Diane Robina, president of emerging networks for Comcast Corp. and Sara Levinson, a publishing-unit head at Rodale Inc. Ms. Laybourne and Judith McHale, past president of Discovery Communications Inc., plan to fly to Iowa this weekend to knock on doors and help in field offices.
In its “peer-to-peer” strategy, the Clinton campaign asks professional women who are supporters to approach others, even if they don’t know them. The campaign asked one of Sen. Clinton’s most prolific fund-raisers, Maureen White, a human-rights activist and former investment adviser, to contact Janet Hanson, chairman of Milestone Capital Management, an investment-management firm.
In February, after the two women met, Ms. White phoned Ms. Hanson to offer a personal appearance by President Clinton. “Can you do a fund-raiser in three days?” she recalls asking. “We can get the president then.”
“Done,” Ms. Hanson replied.
Ms. Hanson fired off an email to women working in financial services, including at former employer Goldman Sachs Group Inc. She says she “positioned the trade” as a two-hour conversation with Bill Clinton for a $4,600 contribution. The Feb. 15 event raised nearly $150,000.
Powerful businesswomen, of course, make up only a tiny slice of the overall electorate. But the Clinton campaign hopes to reap dividends from the “viral” nature of groups such as Real Estate Women for Hillary, Women Lawyers for Hillary, Women on Wall Street for Hillary, Business Women’s Council and Club 44 (the next president will be the 44th).
The campaign’s biggest event for professional women was October’s “Summit for Women” in Washington. Clinton supporters were urged to bring friends and colleagues.
Arden Karsen, senior vice president of Advenir Inc., a Miami-based multifamily housing developer, emailed invitations to 100 women in Miami real estate, in her local chapter of the National Congress of Jewish Women, and who attended Harvard Business School with her. Three women from Miami accompanied her to the summit.
More than 1,000 women attended the event, donating $1.5 million. In the final session, called “A Call to Action: Tools to Take Home,” they were urged to host debate parties to show how well she’s standing up to the “all-boys club,” and to wear Hillary paraphernalia to spark conversations.
“I purposefully wore my Hillary baseball cap to my son’s baseball game,” says Ms. Karsen. To a recent holiday bazaar, she wore a shirt designed for women: a chocolate-brown fitted T-shirt emblazoned with the candidate’s signature in blue.
Some supporters are hoping that if Sen. Clinton prevails, there will be dividends for all women. “The fact that she’s a woman will open doors in so many sectors,” says Ms. Brooke of Ernst & Young.
Write to Monica Langley at firstname.lastname@example.org
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