October 10, 1996 in Nation/World

Gender Gap Revisited Middle-Class Women In Position To Determine Outcome Of Election

Mcclatchy News Service

By 9 a.m. on Saturday, they are out the door and headed to Einstein Bagels, Starbucks and the soccer fields behind Madison School where the parking lot is filled with minivans, Jeeps and hundreds of moms on the run just like them.

Lunch is fast-food as they scurry off to another soccer game or frantically run errands that have built up over the week. Forget cleaning the house. Dinner may be home cooked and instead of going out to a movie, it’s a quick video before nodding off early from exhaustion.

They are the soccer moms of suburban DuPage County - frazzled and forever on the go. They are also bright, articulate and, up until now, reliably Republican.

And, as a new soccer season moves into high gear, they have emerged as a crucial swing vote in this year’s presidential campaign.

In states like Illinois, they have given President Clinton a virtually insurmountable lead. If Republican challenger Bob Dole has any hope of getting back in the race he must win them back in the next three weeks.

Recapturing this traditional Republican voting block won’t be easy for Dole. It’s the gender gap, the generational gap, the economy, abortion rights, crime, education and the environment rolled into one and Dole seems to be on the wrong side of each.

Members of the baby boom generation in their 30s and 40s, these women are mostly college educated. Many of them are working moms or held down a job before having children.

“It makes me mad,” said Wendy Habel, 43, standing on a soccer sideline. “They attack Bill Clinton for smoking pot and avoiding the draft. Well, we went through that and look, we have families, we pay taxes, we have turned out all right.”

Tish Lubenow, 37, who calls herself a “Republican at heart,” said she just doesn’t care for Dole.

“He’s not in sync with the times,” she said. “Clinton has a phoniness about him, but he has done a good job.”

The hallmark of Dole’s campaign, a 15 percent across-the-board tax cut, doesn’t play well with these women. As with so many issues, they see it through the prism of their children and believe eliminating the deficit so it isn’t passed on to the next generation is more important than more money for a another pair of Nikes.

They are tired of the ceaseless attacks on first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and disturbed by the harsh tone of the Christian Right, believing Dole has paid too much attention to that wing of the party and not the moderates they count themselves among.

“If she were a man, she wouldn’t be having these problems,” Jan Bomher, 46, said of Hillary Clinton.

The support for Clinton is far from solid and those that dislike him do so in words that strike at the heart of the character issue - not Whitewater, Travelgate or the FBI files but Jennifer Flowers and Paula Jones.

“I don’t like Bill Clinton. I don’t like his morals, his values. He is a pig,” said Colleen Salvino, 37.

“I find him a little on the sleazy side,” said Marie Pusinelli, 40, who says she will vote or Dole. “It’s his character. Too many things don’t add up. I don’t respect him.”

But others dismiss such talk and say it’s the future of the country and not Clinton’s character flaws that are important.

“I don’t look at the president as my morality adviser,” said Dru Ann Cosby.

Two years ago, angry white males turned on Clinton and took out their frustration by electing a Republican Congress. This year, it’s the suburban soccer moms who could determine the outcome.

Illinois is among a handful of states Dole must sweep in order to win. No Republican has ever been elected president without taking Illinois. But Dole trails Clinton by between 15 and 20 points and by even a wider margin with women.

“It’s not a gender gap, it’s a chasm, a gorge, a canyon,” said Paul Green, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Administration at Governors State University. “Clinton has an incredible ability to connect with suburban, middle-class women.”

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