The night Erskine Bowles tied up the Democratic nomination for Senate, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall beat him to the stage from which he would later address campaign workers. That ready support - from one of the few local U.S. Senate candidates to mention women's issues consistently on the campaign trail - and two recent luncheons featuring Republican challenger Elizabeth Dole and famous female politicos, just underscore the centrality of women to both campaigns.
Yet the two front-runners were largely mum when it came to tailoring their platforms to women and highlighting particular women's issues during the primary. It's time for that to change.Bowles should not cede gender-specific ideas to Dole simply because she is a woman. Conversely, Dole should not shy away from those concerns simply because Democrats traditionally have addressed them more often.
There are about half a million more female registered voters in our state than male ones. Female Democrats outnumber males 59 to 41 percent. Female Republicans have a slight majority at 51 percent. But perhaps most important, women comprise 51 percent of unaffiliated voters - the coveted swing vote - who can settle elections. And the largest group of female voters falls between ages 41 and 65, a group motivated to vote by concerns about unemployment benefits and retraining opportunities, health research, retirement security, opportunities for female-owned businesses and meeting health care needs for themselves and their families.
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In a state that voted for Republican presidential candidates in the last two elections, even though most voters are registered Democrats, women are far too important to ignore or patronize.
In their defense, the candidates have raised broad issues with traditional appeal to women in their roles as caretakers, such as education and prescription drugs for the elderly. But few of those messages have been directed specifically at female voters.
And there's been only scant discussion of specifics such as affordable child care, curbing violence and discrimination against women or seeking pay equity - all issues that affect females acutely. The campaigns did spar Monday over abortion rights (Dole opposes abortion and supports a ban on partial birth abortions; Bowles favors choice) and the Family and Medical Leave Act. That's a beginning.
The time has passed when candidates who spoke to women's perspectives on campaign issues would be accused of divisiveness. Women's interests are not special interests. They ought to interest everyone who values women - including candidates who cannot win election without first winning female voters.