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Women in Bush's Life Hit Trail to Press His Case


AUSTIN, Texas — While the presidential candidates prepared for their final debate, Republican nominee George W. Bush's campaign announced Sunday that it is calling out its big gun in a final frenetic effort to win the votes of women:


Former First Lady Barbara Bush, she of the triple strand of pearls and tart tongue, will lead a distaff team of surrogates through several contested states beginning Wednesday. Along with her on all or part of the three-day tour will be the candidate's wife, Laura; his running mate's wife, Lynne Cheney; his foreign policy advisor Condoleezza Rice; and Cindy McCain, the wife of his former rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Not discouraged by the prospect of facing down a White House veteran, Democrats will send out surrogates to counter Bush's efforts to woo women, who have this year stayed more or less loyal to Democratic nominee Al Gore.

Not on the agenda for the women's tour, according to the Bush campaign, is the touchy issue of abortion. The Republican Party's vigorous opposition to abortion has been one of the elements that have drawn women over to the Democratic side in recent years. Bush opposes abortion rights except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother; Gore favors abortion rights.

"Gov. Bush realizes this is a controversial issue," spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said Sunday. "But he wants to bring people together behind what we can agree on: reducing abortions in America."

Gore spokeswoman Kym Spell said that Democrats will bird-dog the Bush surrogates by emphasizing the Texas governor's abortion views, his state policies and his recent comment to a voter in Pennsylvania that he was unfamiliar with the Violence Against Women Act.

The act has been in effect for years but its reauthorization has been held up recently by Republicans in Congress. The measure offers federal funds to states for programs that seek to combat violence against women, for battered women's shelters and for hotlines to help abuse victims.

The Bush campaign also announced that on Sunday, 29 of the nation's 30 Republican governors will kick off a three-day effort to boost Bush, splitting into seven groups and hitting 24 states.

In their tour, the women are expected to campaign only in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states where Gore's leads have shrunk or disappeared in recent days.

Bush spent Sunday in Austin, preparing for Tuesday's third and final presidential debate in St. Louis. He was scheduled to campaign in Little Rock, Ark., today before spending debate eve in St. Louis.

Gore, whose campaign days have been adjusted hour-by-hour because of developments in the Middle East, flew from Washington to St. Louis on Sunday to prepare for the debate. He was scheduled to take part in a mock debate today with a host of "special advisors"--lay people appointed by his campaign.

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