Sunday, April 30, 2000

Gore may come courting Ohio

Women wield much influence

        If you are a middle-class working woman with children and you live in Ohio, you may find Al Gore on your doorstep this fall.

        He may even offer to pick up the kids at soccer practice. Take the dog to the vet. Pick up the dry cleaning.

        Whatever you want, you got it.

        And even if he doesn't, rest assured that the vice president and Democratic presidential nominee will have zeroed in on you in other ways, because he wants — nay, must have — your vote this fall if he hopes to spray down the Oval Office with Lysol next January and haul in his own stuff.

        And why will Mr. Gore be so hell-bent on winning you over this fall?

        Well, you may already be a force to be reckoned with in the PTO at the neighborhood grade school, but, this fall, you (individually and collectively) will wield enormous clout.

        You just might get to make the call on who the next president of the United States will be.

        Al Gore knows two things well, as does his Republican opponent, George W. Bush: that Ohio may well be a make-or-break state, and that women voters will hold the key.

        One very significant factor in Bill Clinton winning the White House in 1992 and bringing along his friend Al was that Ohio jumped that year from the Republican to the Democratic column.

        Jimmy Carter just barely won the Buckeye State over Gerald Ford in 1976, but Ronald Reagan grabbed it back four years later, then romped over Walter Mondale in 1984 and passed Ohio on to his vice president, George Bush, in 1988.

        No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio, so when George Bush lost Ohio by a small margin to Mr. Clinton in 1992, the ball game was over.

        The principal reason Mr. Clinton owned Ohio's electoral votes two elections in a row was that women voted for him.

        The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Clinton won women's votes because he talked about issues they cared about — education, the environment, protecting kids' from gun violence, Social Security and Medicare. The Republican candidates didn't.

        Women made Bill Clinton president, particularly Ohio women.

        But now comes a new Ohio Poll, conducted by the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research between April 5 and 22, showing Mr. Bush with 51 percent support from likely Ohio voters and Mr. Gore with 42 percent.

        But, the Ohio Poll said, the race among women voters in Ohio is nearly dead even — 47 percent for Mr. Bush and 46 percent for Mr. Gore. African-American women are solidly behind Mr. Gore. But among white women in Ohio, the numbers are even worse — Mr. Gore takes only 42 percent compared with 51 percent for Mr. Bush, an exact match of the statewide numbers.

        Democratic Party leaders in Washington and Columbus know that if these numbers showing Mr. Bush ahead among women voters do not flip-flop between now and Nov. 7, Mr. Gore can kiss Ohio and its 21 electoral votes goodbye.

        And, perhaps, the presidency as well.

        Women of Ohio, if you have a flat tire on the interstate, get out the cell phone and call Al Gore. He'll be there in a flash.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics. He can be reached at 768-8388 or at