From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Describing it as a press conference gone awry would be putting it mildly. Before the start of the NPR debate yesterday afternoon, the Clinton campaign arranged for Ellen Malcolm, the head of Emily's List, to hold a press conference with reporters.
Malcolm took the podium and argued that Clinton was the only candidate in this race who had stood up when it was tough, especially on women's issues. She said that Clinton -- standing up to the Bush Administration -- had led the fight to get the FDA to approve the Plan B contraceptive. She also cited the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts as a time when Clinton had been the strongest voice against his nomination, taking the floor and giving a passionate speech on why his nomination threatened Roe vs. Wade.
But the minute Malcolm stopped speaking, she was hit by questions from reporters armed with info sent out by the Obama campaign. Malcolm hadn't mentioned Obama by name, but she said that those who vote "present" at tough times don't show a true commitment to leadership -- referring to Obama's "present" votes on some anti-abortion measures while serving in the Illinois state Senate. But reporters asked Malcolm why the head of the Illinois Planned Parenthood had said in the Los Angeles Times that Obama was getting in trouble for a "present"-vote strategy that the pro-choice group had devised. Malcolm repeated the quote from the Chicago Tribune, which said that Obama's seat had not been in jeopardy unlike other vulnerable Democrats.
But she didn't have an answer for what came next.
Referencing the battle Planned Parenthood had waged in South Dakota to repeal a law that had banned all abortions in the state, Malcolm was asked why Clinton had done nothing to help support that effort. Obama had sent money and written a letter in support of the group. The head of the South Dakota Planned Parenthood had called Clinton's silence on the issue "mystifying."
Malcolm sidestepped the question, raised Clinton's speech on the Senate floor again, and said that her example then had shown true leadership. Obama only had one sentence on Roe in his floor statement in comparison on Roberts' nomination, Malcolm said. Both senators voted against confirming the chief justice.
Obama's campaign followed up on the press conference by circulating a letter Obama had received from Malcolm praising him for his keynote speech at the 2006 EMILY'S List Majority Council Conference and a list of pro-choice activists willing to speak on behalf of Obama's commitment to women's reproductive rights.
If anything, yesterday's exchange illustrated just how coveted the women's vote is and that neither campaign is willing to give any ground on the issue.
*** UPDATE *** The Clinton campaign called First Read to object to the characterization of yesterday's event as a press conference gone "awry." The campaign also cited a comment from the head of the Illinois National Organization for Women, who has criticized Obama for his "present" votes: "In each case, the right vote was clear, but Senator Obama chose political cover over standing and fighting for his convictions." It's worth pointing, however, out that Illinois NOW -- as well as the national organization -- has endorsed Clinton.