Amid all the convention stories about unity with Hillary Clinton's loyalists, a new strategy has begun to emerge from the Obama campaign to win over her supporters. It has nothing to with roll-call votes or soothing the dashed hopes of Clinton's vocal donors. But it has everything to do with the women and working families who were her strongest base of supporters in the primaries.
The new approach was fully on display at Michelle Obama's first campaign event after her prime-time speech at the convention. Surrounded by women governors, and aided by the vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, the candidate's wife held a roundtable with several working mothers.
"With Barack, you get the fight for equal pay for equal work; with Sen. [John] McCain you don't," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. "With Barack, you get the commitment to get to universal health-care coverage; with Senator McCain you don't. With Barack you get the commitment to get out of Iraq on a real-time basis; with Senator McCain you don't. With Barack you have a real plan to keep people in their homes to prevent foreclosures for people who are in home loans they can't afford through no fault of their own; with Senator McCain you don't. This election is about big differences that make a big difference in the quality of all our lives. That's why we have to go out and fight for it and win it."
In fact the Obama campaign has been planning for several weeks to spell out those big differences to women voters. After the convention, Team Obama says it will spend heavily on ads targeting women, educating them about McCain's track record on key issues that affect them—especially abortion rights, equal pay, the economy and health care.
"John McCain has a problem with women," said one senior Obama aide. "If his margins with women don't improve, he's going to have a very hard time winning this election."
The Obama campaign points to McCain's deficit among women in the polls, saying he is doing worse than any candidate since Bob Dole in 1996, who won just 38 percent of the female vote. Obama's lead among women is currently between 10 and 15 points, with McCain running 10 points behind George W. Bush in 2004 and 5 points behind Bush in 2000.
McCain has tried repeatedly to exploit the tensions between Clinton supporters and Obama this week, cutting several ads with that goal. But Obama's strategists believe their new focus on women voters will more than compensate for that strategy.
There's another argument that the Obama campaign won't make in public but that nonetheless could halt the wedge strategy in its tracks: the impeachment of Bill Clinton. McCain voted for Clinton's impeachment—a track record that should make him hard for diehard Clinton supporters to stomach.