The Year of the Woman appears to be oh so long ago as to be nearly forgotten.
To date, neither of the two presumptive presidential candidates, Republican George W. Bush nor Democrat Al Gore, has taken aim directly at the women's vote. Spokespeople for both candidates, however, maintain they have women-friendly platforms and have no need to worry about their support from women.
Mindy Tucker, press secretary for Bush, said that exit polls indicate her candidate already is getting heavy support from women-so strong that she believes any gender gap in 2000 could favor Bush over Gore.
Janet Murguia, national constituency director for Gore, took exception to the contention that her candidate has neglected women during the primaries.
"I don't think we're waiting at all to reach out to women. There's a lot been done behind the scenes. We're talking about people trying to make distinctions that aren't relevant between what are and what are not women's issues. We believe that mainstream issues affect women," Murguia said
"I'm convinced that women will be the swing vote in the general election," she added. "They will make the difference in who becomes president. They always do."
Yet, polls indicate that so far neither candidate has reached women voters. In fact, it is a safe guess that campaign 2000 will bear little resemblance to 1992's Year of the Woman.
Poll results released March 13 by the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government indicated that women are more likely than men to "express disgust" with the nation's politics. Another recent poll, conducted in January by the Lifetime cable channel, suggested that women did not believe the candidates were talking about the issues that are important to them.
Abortion, the issue most likely to be classified as a "women's issue," is one of the few that has gotten any political attention during the sometimes contentious primaries.
Gore and Bush offer a clear choice on choice. Bush, who claims the mantel of "compassionate conservative," is pro-life and would allow abortions only in the case of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Gore, who rang up a pro-life voting record in his early years in Congress, said in a March 1 Democratic debate in Los Angeles that he has "always, always, always" supported Roe v. Wade. As president, Gore said, he would "defend a woman's right to choose, regardless of her economic circumstances."
Certainly, there is a cadre of women for whom abortion is a bottom line question-on both sides of the issue. But when pollsters ask women what issues draw them to one candidate or another, they say they want to know a candidate's stand on a host of issues other than abortion. Among them: education, health care, aid to working families, Social Security, guns and violence.
Culling through each candidate's positions, as posted on their campaign web sites, here is what can be ascertained about their current positions on these issues:
Bush has pledged to ensure there is "no child left behind." His campaign platform calls for beefing up Head Start and requiring states to offer vouchers to economically disadvantaged families whose children are in failing public schools.
Gore opposes vouchers, saying -they drain "money away from public schools at a time when we need to lift up the public schools."
Gore supports expanding pre-kindergarten programs and day care programs beyond those now available only to low-income children and pledges to spend $50 billion over 10 years to expand pre-schools..
Bush has pledged to strengthen Medicare by allowing patients more choices and private sector alternatives.
Gore is pledging to strengthen Medicare by adding prescription benefits for seniors. In addition, Gore said at a Jan. 5 debate in Durham, N.H., that he is "committed to providing universal, high quality, affordable health care to every single American." Uninsured children should be first on that list, he said.
AID TO WORKING FAMILIES:
Bush promises to use tax cuts to make life easier for poor and lower income working families. Although he said in a December speech in Des Moines the highest percentage tax cuts would go to taxpayers with the lowest incomes, some of his proposals apply only to families who can afford to contribute to charities and fund education savings plans for their kids. Bush also has pledged to reduce the marriage penalty-a quirk in the tax law that requires married couples filing jointly to pay more in taxes than two people filing singly would-and to double the child tax credit to $1,000 per child.
Gore's platform on families and children features a proposal to expand access to quality after-school programs.
Bush promises to retain the account surplus for Social Security-60 percent of the program's beneficiaries are women-and end a government practice of reducing Social Security benefits paid to seniors who work.
Gore has pledged to fight any proposal to privatize Social Security or raise the retirement age.
Bush supports stricter enforcement of laws already on the books and would support a voluntary plan to put child safety locks on handguns and a plan to raise the legal age for gun possession from 18 to 21.
Gore, who voted against a number of gun control measures when he served in Congress, has taken a tougher stance against the gun lobby since serving as vice president, including casting the tie-breaking vote on a bill requiring background checks on people buy weapons at gun shows. He has pledged to support photo identification licenses for all future handgun purchases and would completely ban Saturday night specials and assault weapons.