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Stars shine light on a potent voting bloc: single women

Television & Radio

October 08, 2004|Dana Calvo | Special to The Times

The critical edge in this year's race for the White House may be as slender -- and as coveted -- as a needle-heeled Manolo Blahnik.

With the presidential race in a statistical dead heat, the single woman has become a sought-after voting bloc, and in recent weeks Democratically aligned actresses such as Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, Christina Applegate and Helen Hunt have begun urging these unattached femmes to cast their ballots on Nov. 2.

In 2000, 22 million single women did not cast a ballot. If a fraction of this group gets involved in the presidential election, it could help determine the winner.

"For the first time in American politics, we're speaking to unmarried women, saying, 'America is not complete without you.' And that's true," said Page Gardner, founder of Women's Voices. Women Vote., a nonpartisan organization that is spearheading the largest celebrity voter drive.

Along with Parker and Applegate, Barbra Streisand, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tyne Daly have recorded phone scripts that enable voters on the receiving end to "press 1" to register to vote or "press 2" to receive material that will enable friends and family to register.

And Aniston and Hunt have made public service announcements to air on E! Entertainment Television. (The 30-second spots can also be downloaded off the WVWV website, wvwv.org). In one of them, Aniston talks to viewers "woman to woman." "Why would you let someone else choose your president, your leaders?" she asks. "So unless you want someone else to make the decision for you, make yourself heard and vote."

Another nonpartisan group, 1000 Flowers, is supported by Robin Wright Penn. The group sent voter registration kits to dozens of nail salons in swing states so that clients can register and get manicures at the same time. Or, as its slogan says, women can begin "nailing the election one vote at a time."

Less choreographed campaigns have the power to reach a vast audience of potential female voters who may have thought their vote would not have an impact.

Cameron Diaz, the most highly paid actress in the world, appeared on "Oprah" last week and awkwardly offered her depiction of how high the stakes are for this election when she declared, "If you think that rape should be legal, then don't vote."

Fellow "Charlie's Angel" Drew Barrymore sounded more polished and informed when she appeared on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" to discuss her pro-vote documentary, "The Best Place to Start," which airs on MTV.

Appealing to niche voting blocs such as NASCAR dads and soccer moms has long been an important political strategy. But the drive to get women who are "on their own" -- divorced, widowed or single -- is a distinct effort aimed at an enormous and varied collection of citizens.

This niche of American voters, WVWV research shows, tends to be young -- fresh from college or high school -- or pushing retirement age.

In contrast to the tony pedigrees of the Hollywood women wooing them today, the typical single female voter is economically squeezed, earning less than $30,000 a year. And ideologically, her concerns differ from those of the general and married population. Political observers say single female voters are consumed more with economic security, healthcare and retirement issues than they are with national security.

It's exactly these concerns that Hunt, dressed in a black T-shirt with "November 2" on the front, addresses in her public service announcement.

"Care about the cost of healthcare? About the quality of your kids' education? Worried that prices are rising faster than your paychecks and wonder what will happen to you when you retire?" she asks. "Make your voice heard."

But critics of the celebrity-driven vote campaign say Hunt and her glamorous colleagues are not just delivering civic encouragement, they're stumping for Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee. The proof, they say, is in the actresses' political histories as well as the organizations' emphasis on domestic issues.

"The idea that female voters aren't concerned about national security issues and winning the war on terror is perhaps inaccurate," said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. President Bush has made the threat of terrorist attacks and national security central themes of his campaign.

Other Republicans say the liberal Hollywood sirens are merely preaching to the choir.

"If they're targeting single women, then calling themselves nonpartisan, it's disingenuous," said Mark Vafiades, president of the Hollywood Congress of Republicans, which has about 100 members. "Single women are overwhelmingly Democratic."

Aniston is a registered Democrat, and Hunt campaigned for Bill Clinton in 1992. Documents show Hunt donated money this year to Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. And then there's Streisand, perhaps the biggest Democrat in town.

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