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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2008

Girls Night Out: Notes from Hillary Land

SATURDAY

4:30 PM

There they were, four middle-aged women on a pilgrimage, warming up inside the Whitmer gym after patiently waiting in line, in the cold, for two long hours.

Like everyone else there Friday night, if they d heard Tom Petty s American Girl blast through the speakers once, they d heard it God-knows-how-many times.

Sharon Hemming stood with her friends out on the middle of the floor as they each looked around at the fast-crowding gym. A two-time G.W. Bush voter, the 51-year-old Curtice woman now turns to Hillary Rodham Clinton to help her floundering business.

Well, I kinda have a business, she said, reconciling her remarks to the current economic climate. It s getting outsourced to India.

Sharon does freelance title research in several states across the country. But, to hear her tell it, a giant underwriting company is now shipping that task to India. Her business is off 60 percent: I lost $85,000 in this last year alone.

A born-and-bred Democrat, Sharon says it was her husband who turned her into a Republican. Now, it s a Republican president who s turning her back into a Democrat.

Do I regret [voting for President Bush]? I do now. Actually, my business was booming when Bill Clinton was in.

Almost ironic, really, that Sharon s friend Debbie Cowell was even there. After all, the one-time Illinois resident helped vote Barack Obama into the U.S. Senate.

Sad to say, the Curtice office worker confessed, the first time I ever voted [at age 50] was to do it just for Obama. And yes, she told me, she was happy with his Senate performance. But he s just not Hillary, and Hillary s the one.

Debbie s friend from Rossford, Brenda Heban, has made it all the way to age 52 without having voted even once. And despite her zealous support for Hillary, she won t be voting in the March 4 primary, either, since she never quite got around to registering in time. But she is, for the first time in her life, trying to learn something about politics.

To start, this self-described housewife said, she read the candidate s book, Living History. And now she s paying attention to the debates. For her efforts, she has come to this conclusion: I just love her. There is not a doubt in my mind. I trust her. There s just something about her. I don t think this is about race. It s about gender. Big-time. It is for me.

Before Debbie moved back here from Illinois, she and Brenda would gab on the phone, and every now and then Debbie would talk to her Ohio friend about this amazing young senator who was making waves.

She used to say, He d make a good president someday,' and I would always agree. But just not today, Brenda said.

Patty Hotmer, meanwhile, hasn t missed an election day since she turned 18. Still, Friday night marked the first time she ever bothered venturing out to see a candidate in person.

I think it s time for a woman president. It s waaay past time. Her forehead scrunched up momentarily as a thought passed through her mind: Actually, I would rather have had her run to begin with than her husband.

All four women agree: If Hillary tanks in Ohio and Texas and ends up withdrawing from the race, they could vote for Obama without hesitation. But given the choice, they're going for an American Girl first.



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