Key women meet with Obama

Times Staff Writers

Barack Obama met privately Tuesday with a group of women leaders, seeking their endorsement and also raising a sore point -- the issue of gender bias in his Democratic primary fight with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Participants at the hourlong meeting at a Washington hotel said that the session went well and that it focused mainly on winning in November.

“He talked about his concerns about some of the sexism in the course of the campaign,” said Ellen Malcolm, president of the political group EMILY’s List and a key Clinton supporter. “But essentially the meeting was forward-looking.”

Across the country, in Nevada, Republican John McCain engaged in a similar bit of political fence-mending. Appearing at a town hall meeting in Sparks, he flatly ruled out raising taxes if elected president.


“I think the worst thing that could happen to America in these very tough economic times is to raise someone’s taxes,” McCain said in response to a question. “I won’t do it.”

McCain had angered some fiscal conservatives by seeming to suggest in recent interviews that he would consider higher payroll taxes to fund Social Security. The Club for Growth, an anti-tax group, sent an open letter Monday expressing concern about McCain’s comments, and the Obama campaign piled on by asserting that McCain had flip-flopped on the question.

The Arizona senator addressed the matter when a small girl in the audience at Reed High School asked him if he would raise taxes as president. He drew whoops and cheers from the audience of several hundred with a one-word response: “No.”

Later, at a private fundraiser on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, McCain alluded to that. “Some people say, ‘Well, McCain says he wants to sit down and work these issues out,’ ” he told donors. “Of course I do, but I have a clear record of opposing tax increases, and I’ll stand by that record.”

Obama spent his day mostly out of sight. The Illinois senator opened his meeting with about three dozen women’s advocates by discussing Clinton’s treatment during the primary, participants said.

Many female political activists believe the New York senator was subjected to sexist criticism by TV personalities, bloggers and others.

Some have voiced anger that Obama and other Democratic leaders did not speak out more forcefully in Clinton’s defense.

Obama mentioned that “he knew there had been frustration with stuff directed at Sen. Clinton by the media,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women.


“It was very important for him to reach out,” said Gandy, whose organization has yet to make an endorsement. “Obviously he needed to reach out to women in the same way that he has reached out to Latinos and to labor leaders and to environmentalists, and even to evangelicals.”

Separately, Obama met Tuesday with Yusaf Raza Gillani, the prime minister of Pakistan; spoke by phone with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson; and met with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke for about 40 minutes. Since he returned from a nine-day foreign trip, Obama has sought to emphasize a focus on economic affairs.



Nicholas reported from Washington and Barabak from Sparks, Nev.