BOSTON — Facing an anxious electorate, Democrats are turning to Hillary Rodham Clinton to drum up support among female voters as polls suggest her party could be losing ground among women heading into next month's elections.
Clinton on Friday rallied Democrats on behalf of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor, and helped gubernatorial candidates in Rhode Island and Maine as part of a swing through New England aimed at boosting support among women.
"From my perspective, it shouldn't even really be a race. It should not even be close, but we're living during an election season where it's close everywhere," Clinton said as public polls show Coakley trailing Republican Charlie Baker. "And that's why Martha needs you."
Democrats need female voters to cast ballots in large numbers on Nov. 4, a midterm election in which the party is defending its Senate majority. And they see some signs that their traditional edge among women may be narrowing.
President Barack Obama won among female voters by 11 percentage points in 2012, an edge that helped him carry several battleground states. But in the last midterm elections, Democrats struggled among women, who split their votes with 49 percent going to the GOP and 48 percent to the Democrats.
A recent Associated Press-GfK poll showed that women likely to turn out to vote were about evenly divided on which party they wanted to see in control of Congress, with 44 percent favoring the GOP and 42 percent backing the Democrats. That's a shift in the Republicans' favor since a September survey found female likely voters preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress by a margin of 47 percent to 40 percent. Men's preferences held about even across the two polls.
With just over a week before Election Day, Democrats were focused on boosting turnout among women voters, and Clinton is a key figure in that effort.
Preceding Clinton onstage: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a liberal favorite who this week did rule out challenging Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination if Clinton decides to run. Clinton praised Warren as a "passionate champion" for workers and families, adding, "I love watching Elizabeth give it to those who deserve to get it." Clinton ended her speech by noting that she swapped grandchildren stories back stage with Warren and Gov. Deval Patrick, joking that she was "trying to keep up" after becoming a grandmother last month.
As she considers a potential 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton has barnstormed the country on behalf of female candidates and for campaigns where women could play a pivotal role — states like Colorado, Iowa and Michigan. Clinton, who would become the nation's first female president, if elected, is assisting several House and Senate campaigns and plans to campaign in New Hampshire with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan the final weekend before the election.
Both parties are making a major push to win support among women. Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, said a series of security-related issues, from the role of the Islamic State group in the Middle East to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and the emergence of Ebola infections in the U.S., has created uncertainty among many female voters. In many states, Lake said the pool of undecided voters are disproportionately female but turnout remains the crucial factor.
"If married white women turn out, then Democrats are going to lose the womens' vote. If unmarried women and women of color turn out, then Democrats are going to win the womens' vote ... it really matters who shows up."
Nicole McCleskey, a New Mexico-based Republican pollster, said Republicans may not win a majority of women in the elections but combining a bigger share of the male vote with a narrowing of support for Democrats among women could lead to victories.
"I don't think we're going to see 2010. We're going to see something different, but it's still going to be big for Republicans," she said.
In Boston, Clinton praised Coakley's commitment to women and children and efforts to provide pay equity and early childhood education. Coakley is trying to erase the memory of her surprise 2010 defeat to Republican Scott Brown in a special election to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. Polls have shown her struggling against Baker, a former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare.
Later, in Providence, Rhode Island, the former secretary of state heaped praise on Democrat Gina Raimondo, calling her "one of the best choices in the entire country." Raimondo faces Republican Allen Fung in an open gubernatorial race.
Clinton was ending the day in Maine on behalf of Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who is challenging Republican Gov. Paul LePage in a campaign where independents could play a major role.
Thomas reported from Washington. AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and Associated Press writer Erika Niedowski in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report. Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kthomasDC