WASHINGTON — Heading into President Barack Obama's final midterm election in the White House, Democrats on Friday sought to energize female voters, pointing to women as key to the party's future.
"We do better when we field the whole team. When women succeed, America succeeds," Obama said at an annual forum sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton headlined the daylong Women's Leadership Forum aimed at generating excitement for the party's candidates. Democrats are trying to hold onto a slim majority in the Senate and are defending several female incumbents — Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire — while seeking to mobilize women, who typically vote in smaller numbers in nonpresidential elections.
The president said the economy had made strides since the recession, telling more than 500 of the party's top female donors that voters would see two different visions for America's future in the elections. Republicans, the president said, would offer an agenda that would help the wealthy, big banks and polluters while Democrats had sought to give people a "fair shot."
Republicans, who run the House and are vying for Senate control, said Obama and his allies were spending "all of their time pointing fingers at others" instead of seeking solutions for women. "Voters are now turning on the Democrats," said Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman.
Democrats cited Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage, which they said has a disproportionate effect on women, efforts to repeal Obama's health care overhaul and last year's partial government shutdown.
"If we don't keep these great women in the Senate and we don't make gains in the House, then we're going to lose the chance to make the next step in progress which is waiting because America is about to explode economically," Biden said.
Clinton received a rousing welcome at the forum, which she co-founded in 1993 with Tipper Gore.
The party's leading presidential contender in 2016 if she runs, Clinton in her speech plugged several female candidates on the ballot this fall, a preview of campaigning she's expected to do before the election.
Clinton listed several reasons why the upcoming congressional races would matter, criticizing the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court for pulling "the rug out from beneath America's women." The decision said employers with religious objections could opt out of the health care law's requirement to cover birth control.
She noted the recent 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, legislation Biden pushed and her husband, president Bill Clinton, signed into law. The legislation was viewed as a big step forward to address the issue, and she said its anniversary was tempered by "outrages of the NFL" and assaults on women in uniform and on college campuses. The NFL has been criticized for its handling of the domestic abuse case involving star running back Ray Rice.
Clinton said Democrats have 10 women running for the Senate and six women running for governor. "If I could vote for all of them, I would," she said.
She urged support for Iowa Democrat Staci Appel, who could become the first woman from that state elected to the House and made a special appeal for Mary Burke, who is challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
Walker's presidential ambitions could hinge on whether he wins re-election.
Burke, Clinton said, "is offering a choice between more angry gridlock and progress that will actually make a difference for Wisconsin families: better jobs, better wages and better schools," she said, without mentioning Walker by name.
Obama, Clinton and Biden all offered praise for DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman who has led the committee since 2011. Her future at the committee was called into question this week in a story by Politico in which Democrats expressed unhappiness with her.
The story included allegations that Wasserman Schultz was trying to curry favor with Democratic donors and House members to advance her own ambitions in future congressional leadership elections.
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