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OTHER COMMENTARY / EXCERPTS : The Iceman Leaves Us Cold in This Age of Telepolitics

October 16, 1988|ELLEN GOODMAN

What a long, long way from June to October. In the last polls, a modest gender gap remained, but the advantage among women had slipped away. By the end of Thursday night's debate, the images of the two candidates had almost flip-flopped.

What happened to the women's vote was simple: The Democrats took women for granted. It was the Republicans who came knocking at the door.

From the beginning, the Republicans knew that Bush needed a biography that women would relate to--and so they presented it. The Republican National Convention was a Bush family reunion. He was no longer the man with the resume but the grandfather.

They knew he needed a language that resonated in women's ears as well, something better than "the value thing"--and so they scripted one for him. His speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, crafted a speech that presented him as caring, a man who wanted "a gentler, kinder nation."

The original fuel behind the women's vote, what prejudiced them in favor of the Democratic camp at the outset, was their sense of economic vulnerability.

Yet the Democratic pitch to women's sense of economic vulnerability was slow and haphazard. The Republican pitch to women's sense of personal vulnerability was hard-hitting.

Every piece of the Republican strategy for the women's vote was telegraphed well in advance. But the Democrats in '88, like the Democrats in '84, ignored the signals or directed their message elsewhere.

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