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Lisa Witter Headshot

Oprah, Hay Bails and Hoops: The Women's Vote in IN and NC

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Women, again, decided the primaries Tuesday. They accounted for 57% of the North Carolina voters and 56% of the Indiana voters. But while Senator Clinton scored big with women in Pennsylvania securing a whopping 59% of their votes, the tides turned last night in Indiana and North Carolina. With hay bails, children, hoops and framing Hillary's gas-tax holiday as a gimmick, Obama secured enough of the women's vote (55% in NC and 48% in IN) to dominate.

In fact, over the course of the last few primaries, it appears that Obama is gaining strength with women voters - African American and white alike. What accounts for this shift? While there is never any way to know for sure why people voted the way they did, we can start with an understanding what women want.

Women voters want to be able to 1) feel that the candidate cares about their needs, 2) connect with the candidate emotionally, 3) feel respected by the candidate, not politically pandered, and 4) see that people they trust endorse the candidates' policies and/or candidacy.

Coming out of Pennsylvania, Senator Obama and his team knew he was being boxed in as elitist and out-of-touch. And his retort against Reverend Wright took him off his optimism game. He shifted his strategy.

Senator Obama began to spend more time listening and talking with the voters instead of speaking to them. He took a page out of Hillary's retail politics book, showing up at senior centers, gas stations and farm stands to listen. He even shot hoops with the locals. And for the first time in awhile, he was also seen publicly with his children. In other words, he worked hard to show he cared for, respected and could connect with voters' lives and the exit polls show the results. 70% of the voters in North Carolina thought that Obama shared their values and 68% in Indiana. He also beat Clinton on caring -- 54% in Indiana and 55% in North Carolina.

Also, though Hillary deftly attempted to position herself "for the working people" with her gas tax proposal, Obama was able to frame the holiday as a gimmick. Nothing upsets women more than feeling like they were pandered to, especially for votes.

But the one part of last night that was astounding was the percentage of African American women that voted for Obama (90% in North Carolina and 88% in Indiana). I can't help but wonder if these numbers would be different if Oprah Winfrey had not of endorsed Obama. When marketing to women, having a third-party endorser that women trust is key. Senator Obama hit the mother lode with Oprah and it seems to have paid off.

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