Suzanne Fields

Which presidential candidate most appeals to the women? Four years ago, Al Gore thought he could expand his appeal to women with "earth tones" and getting in closer touch with his "feminine side." It didn't work.

For four years we've watched George W. swagger and now he tells us that's simply how they "walk" in Texas. His greatest asset in wooing women is his wife, whose natural grace speaks well for the man she married.

Women have been emancipated too long to be wooed by sexy superficialities. But there's something at work under the radar called the masculinity factor. George W. in his cowboy boots and Texas drawl is much more the natural man that appeals to feminine instincts. John Kerry, fastidiously coiffed in understated designer togs, is the contemporary metrosexual, looking as if he gives a good deal of attention and money to the way he looks. But how these images play into the gender gap is hard to calculate.

Kerry is an accomplished sportsman and a hunter, but exploiting those qualities seems to have given him an unexpected bump in the chin, like the kick from a Remington Model 870 pump-action shotgun. Late night comics ridiculed his windsurfing as merely trying to see which way the wind is blowing. When he appreciatively waved a hunting gun in the air for photo-ops, manly men observed that the gun was banned by legislation that he had sponsored in the Senate. Poor John. He simply doesn't look comfortable in his macho skin.

The Kerry handlers, desperately searching for signs of a rainbow, have begun to treat him as though he were all three of Dorothy's companions in "The Wizard of Oz" - Tin Man, who needs a heart, Cowardly Lion searching for courage and Scarecrow in pursuit of a brain. Dorothy, alas, is nowhere to be seen, and neither is the Yellow Brick Road.

Conventional wisdom dictates that more women will vote for the Democratic candidate, more men for the Republican. The numbers could determine the election. Immediately after 9/11, polls showed little difference in the way that both men and women rallied behind the president, but those numbers have swung back to the conventional formulation, though by narrower margins.

Four years ago, George Bush reduced the predicted gender gap by appealing to suburban women who liked his ideas for reform of the schools. This year the soccer mom has morphed into "security mom," whose major concern is the safety of her children. When it comes to appreciating leadership in the war against terrorism, large majorities of men and women prefer the president over John Kerry - war heroics, wind surfing and illegal gun or not.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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