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Clinton or Obama? Gender less important to young voters.

As Obama gains, he whittles Clinton's lead among baby-boomer women.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 21, 2008

Three cheers: At a Clinton rally Feb. 12 in El Paso, Texas, women showed their colors.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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New York

Cory Atkins isn't swayed by Obama-mania.

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The Massachusetts state lawmaker is a loyal supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton because "she's been through all of the fights I've been through as a woman."

Casey Atkins, the state rep's daughter, is in Barack Obama's camp because of his "more inclusive view of things, his message of uniting people."

As for what that difference says about women: "That's the paradox of our success," quips Representative Atkins.

How the women's vote is breaking this Democratic primary season is proving to be pivotal, as Mr. Obama racks up wins in part on the basis of white female voters jumping into his camp. In Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, he won almost as many women's votes as Mrs. Clinton did – it was a statistical tie, exit polls show. In earlier primaries, by contrast, Clinton held a 20 percentage-point edge with female voters – and older women, such as Representative Atkins, were pillars of that support.

But in a trend apparent since the 2006 midterm elections, when female candidates didn't fare as well with younger women voters as they did with their mothers, gender is losing its importance to many women in the "Gen X" and "Gen Y" sets.

"For baby-boomer women and older women, [Clinton's candidacy] is very historic," says pollster Celinda Lake. "Younger women tend to be more impressed with someone of their generation and someone who's African-American. Gender is just not as salient to them. They want candidates to prove to them that they are good."

As a result, women voters have gained clout in the volatile Democratic nominating race, as each campaign fights for their allegiance, experts say. Many expect that to hold true in the general election, too.

"Women will determine the president this year. They're the battleground right now in the primaries, and they're going to be the battleground in the general election," says Ms. Lake. "For Democrats, the lesson [for November] is that you have to have women more enthusiastic about you than men are [excited] about the Republican, or you're going to lose."

Settling on a candidate can be an arduous mental process for any voter, but many women are finding that the historic nature of the 2008 presidential campaign is making the choice particularly difficult.

Linda Purdy of Moretown, Vt. describes it as both "exhilarating and agonizing." For the first time in her life, she says, the Democratic Party's two remaining contenders for the nomination are not white men.

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