Obama in the Women's Building!

The Illinois senator tries to take back the women's vote with an intimate conversation with four Northern California moms -- and more than 100 reporters.

Published January 17, 2008 10:25PM (EST)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Having lost the New Hampshire women's vote to Hillary Clinton 46-34, Barack Obama is not conceding it in California. His campaign scheduled an intriguing event today at San Francisco's Women's Building, a venerable progressive feminist institution in the Mission District, featuring a conversation between Obama and four local mothers -- watched by more than 100 reporters. Having only seen Obama in enormous venues in Des Moines and Manchester, it was fascinating to watch him up close and personal. Sort of.

It started slow, with Obama taking a few minutes to deliver a tailored version of one of his stump speeches, focused on women and families, promising to "reclaim the American dream for working women in this country." It didn't seem the best use of the unusual venue. But then he drew the women out. Serina Rankins, a single mother from Vallejo who works as a paralegal, told of being caught in the subprime mortgage mess, now paying $2,800 a month on her first and second mortgages, plus another $700 on childcare. "That's $3,500 before food and clothes," Obama exclaimed, and told her that his plans to help families making less than $75,000 would put another couple of thousand dollars in her pocket. Kara Daillik, a San Francisco public school teacher and single mother of 6-week-old Django (sleeping in a baby sling on her chest), told Obama she wants to stay in the city and work in challenging low-income schools, but she can't afford to live here.

Obama channeled his most famous supporter, Oprah, inquiring warmly about the women's childcare options, whether they had health insurance and how much they paid, and asking what would make the most difference in their lives. All the women said help with childcare and preschool, and Obama referenced his $18 billion education plan, which would expand early childhood education. Then he did something risky, asking all of the women whether they had help from their children's fathers. Some did, some didn't. It was a little awkward."I ask that not to get into your business in front of the TV cameras," Obama explained, "but to make the point that the burdens of juggling work and family is everybody's business. The burden should be placed on the entire community, there's government responsibility and there's responsibility from our men. As my wife likes to remind me."

After making sure he said a personal goodbye to each of the women, Obama then took a few questions from reporters. A Nevada judge had just denied a controversial attempt by some state union representatives to shut down at-large precincts at Las Vegas casinos, one of the more unique features of Nevada's colorful early caucuses, designed to encourage participation by casino workers who have to work on Saturday. Although the casino caucus sites have long been known about, they became a contested issue after Obama won the endorsement of the powerful Culinary Workers Union, with representatives of other unions arguing that the rules favored casino workers over others who might have to work on Saturday, but don't have places to caucus near their job sites. (The subtext, of course, was that, with the endorsement of the CWU, the rules favored Obama over Clinton, whose campaign denied any involvement with the lawsuit.)

Asked about the judge's decision to keep the casino caucus sites in place, Obama said, "I'll be honest with you, we had nothing to do with setting up these rules, we were preparing to win under the rules that had been set up. Some of the people involved in setting up these rules didn't think we'd be as competitive as we are, and tried to change them at the last minute. I think the judge was clear you can't change the rules six days before a caucus, and any alteration would have disenfranchised maids, dishwashers, bellhops who work on the strip."

So the Las Vegas casino caucus show goes on. Obama's headed there tomorrow, and I'm headed there tonight. Let me know what you'd like to see me focus on in my comments section.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections