Bob Dole wanted women to know he cared.
So on one recent sunny afternoon, the Republicans’ expected presidential nominee took his entourage of reporters and Secret Service agents to a poor, black neighborhood in Chicago to hear stories about domestic violence and to discuss solutions.
But instead of earning points from women, whose support he needs to close a vast gender gap and unseat President Clinton this fall, Dole drew scorn when he blamed domestic violence on “the failure of the welfare system.” He was rebuked - and his appearance overshadowed - by an advocate for victims, who noted that domestic violence knows no income or racial boundaries.
The incident underscores the difficulty Dole has had interesting female voters in his campaign. Although he has acknowledged the gender gap, Dole has failed to detail how he might shrink it.
“Does this bother me? You bet it does. I don’t believe there should be a gender gap,” Dole said in a speech to Republican women in Washington. “I think that gap will close. Do I have a plan to eliminate it? Yes, I do.”
His plan, Dole told the supportive crowd, was to talk about Clinton’s “credibility gap,” about issues favored by men and women such as a balanced budget and lower taxes, and about his own record in the Senate. There, Dole pointed out, he fought for the Violence Against Women Act, which dealt with domestic violence, and sponsored legislation to make it easier to convict repeat rapists. He didn’t mention that both measures were contained in a crime bill he voted against.
Dole’s campaign aides declined to respond to numerous requests for more information on his plan to close the gap.
By contrast, the Clinton campaign clearly has made women a priority when determining what issues to discuss, which groups to address and how best to connect to their lives.
From medical leave to adoption incentives, television violence to abortion rights, Clinton has chosen issues in his campaign - and his administration - that would appeal to women.