George W. Bush once gave me some good advice -- which I never got the opportunity to use -- now I'd like to return the favor. Back when he picked me to be Secretary of Labor in 2001, the then president-elect sat me down in the Texas governor's mansion for a little heart-to-heart talk. "You know they're going to come after you in the Senate confirmation hearings," he said, fully aware that organized labor and other left-leaning groups vociferously opposed my nomination. "I know you can take care of yourself. You could probably come right back at them, and you might be tempted to do that," he added with a smile. "But here's my advice -- and you can take it or leave it: Don't get bogged down in winning the argument. Don't bite at their bait. I'm not telling you what to do," he said, leaning forward in his chair, "but it's what I'd do in your position."
I never got the chance to act on his advice, because I withdrew my name from consideration before confirmation hearings, after the press revealed I'd taken an illegal alien into my home a decade earlier. But it was great advice nonetheless. And the president could do worse than follow his own admonition in the three televised debates that start Thursday night.
Americans already know and, mostly, like the president. He enjoys a huge advantage among male voters, especially church-going white men, some 70 percent of whom support him, according to a recent Gallup poll. But he has also gained support among female voters, a must-win constituency for John Kerry if the Democrats have any hopes of regaining the White House. In 2000, women overall gave Al Gore an 11-point advantage in their votes, even though married women split their votes more evenly. But most recent polls show the gender gap all but disappearing in this election. Married women now favor the president by 11 points, according to an L.A. Times polls, and several recent polls show Kerry's advantage with women overall eroding. A Pew Center Research poll taken in mid-September, shows Kerry leading by only 5 points, down from 10 points in August, while a recent Gallup poll shows Kerry's lead among women dropping from 15 points to only 4 points, 50-46.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
Be the first to read Linda Chavez's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.