Pat Schroeder's NOW support energizes campaign

US Rep. Patricia Schroeder's dynamite reception at the recent National Organization for Women convention bodes well for her potential presidential bid - at this point, observers say. ``Anyone who runs for the presidency needs people, time, and money,'' says Ruth B. Mandel, director of the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University. The more than $350,000 pledged at the NOW convention is an important boost for Representative Schroeder.

``The NOW convention was important if it signals that the men and women of NOW and other groups will respond similarly,'' Ms. Mandel adds.

At the NOW convention, says Irene Natividad, director of the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), ``the intangible called enthusiasm turned into the tangible called money.''

While NOW did not officially endorse Schroeder, the news is good for her, says Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, in that she raised a lot of money and may have qualified for matching federal campaign money.

``Schroeder's candidacy will sustain itself or fall based on money itself,'' Mr. Ornstein says. ``She's got to have credibility to get money, and this will give her a little more.'' In a field of candidates that may still expand, Schroeder needs to carve a niche, he says.

``At this stage, defining herself sharply for some group support is politically advantageous,'' Ornstein says. Later, as the campaigns develop, that advantage could turn into a problem. Schroeder must be seen as a candidate with wide appeal. But, he adds, she does not seem to be merely after women voters. ``It's a wise strategy, but she still faces big hurdles,'' he says, adding he is somewhat skeptical of her prospects for a full-fledged campaign.

The seven-term Colorado congresswoman has set up an exploratory committee. She says she will decide in September whether she has the money - and enthusiasm - to seek the Democratic nomination in 1988.

Some observers say Schroeder should not align herself too closely with a special-interest group such as NOW. It could cost her support from other sources.

Schroeder is ``sensitive'' to the problem of being seen strictly as a ``women's'' candidate, says Rich Parsons of her exploratory committee. Although she is running on the issues, she is also not afraid of running as a woman.

``I've never been anything but a feminist,'' Schroeder said to the cheering NOW audience. But though she clearly spells that out, she then brings up the issues of her potential campaign - taking on Pentagon spending, improving the environment, examining tax reform, helping American families through issues like pay equity and the Civil Rights Restoration Act bill (which would reinstate a law against discrimination in education), and more. ``This is a mainstream agenda that we must move on,'' Schroeder says.

The NOW reaction to Schroeder is not atypical. Last week Schroeder met with feminists in New York and New Jersey, ranging from local political leaders to a magazine editor. At one breakfast sponsored by the NWPC, Ms. Natividad says, more than $20,000 was pledged. ``She's a tremendous candidate, and the fact that she is a woman also brings her a lot of natural support from women,'' says Natividad.

Some observers have questioned whether NOW is hurting itself by throwing its support so early to one candidate. No other candidates were invited to the convention. NOW leaders answer no. NOW didn't invite other candidates because the others have not addressed women's concerns, says Molly Yard, the newly elected president of NOW. ``The gender gap is clear on a lot of issues. We're tired of it.''

But some observers suggest that NOW could lose political clout at the Democratic national convention if it insists on pouring effort into a Schroeder campaign that might not go anywhere.

``We will be a presence at the convention,'' says Ms. Yard. ``This will go a long way.''

The response to Schroeder at the convention is deafening. After her speech, Eleanor Smeal, outgoing president of NOW, took the stage and asked for pledges of support from individual NOW members. There is definitely a proud chauvinism involved.

Gretchen Roberts, a nurse from Richmond, Va., gave $50 on the spot, and plans to give more during coming months. ``She's the best candidate, she has the credentials,'' says Ms. Roberts. ``And we need a woman to clean up politics.''

Later, as NOW members marched through Philadelphia, some sidewalk observers were given campaign contribution envelopes. ``I hadn't heard of Pat Schroeder,'' said tourist Margaret Lubbers, of Orange City, Iowa, ``I want to hear more.''

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