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Hillary Clinton Amplifies Push For Women Voters With New Ad Campaign


Debate watchers in Iowa and New Hampshire and even those who've changed the channel should expect to see Hillary Clinton tonight. Her presidential campaign is launching a series of ads aimed at a critically important block of voters - in fact, the majority of voters - women. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There are four ads, and in each one, the camera ever-so-slowly zooms in on a woman at work. They are Sara, Cheryl, Mindy and Alexis.


HILLARY CLINTON: It took Alexis four years to earn her college degree, but it will take her 25 years to pay off her student loans.

KEITH: Clinton narrates all of the ads in that soft, low pitch. Each focuses on an economic issue - gender pay equity, college debt, CEO wages, and the intended audience is unmistakable.

KATIE PACKER: Her target audience, which is women.

DEBBIE WALSH: Women voters.

ANNA GREENBERG: Women but also, I think, women of a certain age.

KEITH: Those were Katie Packer, Debbie Walsh and Anna Greenberg, political observers and practitioners who I asked to take a look at the ads. Throughout this campaign, Clinton has played up her gender in a way that she didn't last time, talking about being a grandmother, playfully mentioning her pantsuits and dying her hair. But recent remarks on the campaign trail and these ads mark a shift in amplification. Anna Greenberg is a Democratic pollster.

GREENBERG: I thought the ads were masterful because it hits the exact target audience and talks about the issues that they care about without explicitly saying, I'm a woman; vote for me.

KEITH: Katie Packer is a Republican political consultant at the firm Burning Glass.

PACKER: Based on the research that we've done with women, I think that they are very specifically designed to hit that mark, which is women who might be sort of undecided and maybe have kind of drifted away from Hillary over the last year.

KEITH: Polling showed exactly that last month - a significant drop in support for Clinton among female voters. There were issues of trust. Even at Clinton events, many of the women I interviewed were ambivalent. But then Clinton had a strong debate performance, and she testified for 11 hours before the House Benghazi Committee with a firm, calm demeanor that never cracked. The next morning, she spoke at the Democratic party's Women's Leadership Forum where she recounted a question she got at a recent town hall event.


CLINTON: And this little girl stood up, and she said, if you're a girl president, will you be paid as much as a boy?


UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: When you are president, you'll be paid as much as if it were a man - male?

KEITH: That moment is now also a campaign ad. Debbie Walsh is director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University.

WALSH: The combination of her debate performance and the performance at the Benghazi Committee hearing has done a lot to shore up that support, and I think these ads reflect her effort to really go after that vote and solidify that vote for her.

KEITH: But making such a strong play for women isn't without risk, says Republican Katie Packer.

PACKER: She does run the risk of alienating all the men if they view her as a candidate that's only concerned about women in this country, you know? She has to be a candidate that's broader than that.

KEITH: Walsh at Rutgers sees a candidate and campaign trying to navigate uncharted waters. Women have run for president in the U.S. before, but none have come closer than Clinton.

WALSH: She doesn't have any role models out there, right? You know, that campaign has to figure out how to make this work because there isn't - you know, there are no good examples for her.

KEITH: Eight years ago, Clinton seemed to run away from her gender. This time, Walsh says she's embracing it. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.