Clinton courts women in NH with family leave plan

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MANCHESTER, N H, Oct 16 (Reuters) Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton courted female voters today with a plan to expand paid family leave, boost child-care funding and fight workplace discrimination against pregnant women.

In a speech peppered with anecdotes from raising her 27-year-old daughter Chelsea, the former first lady who would be America's first woman president said her plan would cost 1.75 billion dollars a year and be paid for by shutting down certain kinds of tax shelters without expanding the deficit.

''The struggle to balance family and work can be simply overwhelming,'' the New York senator told a gathering of about 250 people at the Young Women's Christian Association offices in Manchester, New Hampshire.

At the heart of her plan is a 1 billion dollars a year federal grant to encourage states to introduce a paid family leave program by 2016. It also called for an expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to cover an additional 13 million workers.

''We've got to get back to fiscal responsibility but we have got to get back to family responsibility as well,'' she said.

The initiative is the centerpiece of Clinton's intensifying focus on the female demographic this week in a series of events under the theme of ''Women changing America'' -- a bid to attract enough women voters to prevail in both the Democratic presidential nomination and the November 2008 election.

Her chief strategist, Mark Penn, released a memo yesterday that said women will be the deciding force in 2008 and their internal polling shows 94 per cent of women under 35 say they would be more likely to vote in the November election if the first woman nominee is on the ballot.

Yesterday, Clinton showed up on ABC's female-centered talk show ''The View,'' followed by a luncheon where she reminded the audience she faced similar questions in 2000 over whether New York was ready to elect a women senator.

PERSONAL ANECDOTES Her six-page policy brief includes plans to encourage workplace flexibility, an awards system for ''model workplaces'' and plans to promote working from home at federal agencies. It also called for more child-care funding and tougher discrimination laws to protect pregnant women.

''I remember one time when I had to be in court as a young lawyer,'' she said in one of several personal references to raising Chelsea with former President Bill Clinton.

''Chelsea was sick. The baby sitter wasn't there,'' she said.

''It was just a gut-wrenching feeling and I was lucky enough to have a friend who could come over and watch Chelsea as I ran to court and then ran back home.'' Clinton's stories as a working mother struck a chord with some of the mostly female audience.

''I found myself identifying with a lot of the circumstances that she described in her personal life,'' said Robin Cain, 52, a New Hampshire mother of two who has yet to decide which candidate to back.

''I support the whole Democratic field. I haven't winnowed my choice down,'' she said.

REUTERS CS BST0038

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