War an issue of concern for women, too

BROOKFIELD, Wis. – Every day, newspapers and networks spew out new polls, prompting politicians, pundits and junkies to revise or extend their assessments of this tight presidential race.

But on a chilly night in this Milwaukee suburb, a group of women voters from 24 to 46 showed that, behind the volatility in some surveys, this remains a highly polarized election, ultimately dependent on which side does better at turnout.

Though most of the women said they were not firm partisans, and four are switching sides from 2000, none was truly undecided.

Their comments also indicated the degree to which national security issues, specifically Iraq and the war on terrorism, have supplanted such traditional concerns as education, health care and the economy in this crucial voting group.

The session sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center also showed that backers of both candidates have some lingering doubts, many reflecting divisions over President Bush’s decision to attack Iraq and his campaign’s relentless media assault against John Kerry.

“It goes back to the war,” said Nancy Lehrer, 46, who says she is normally a Republican. “I just don’t know that we should have gotten in there like we did. … I’d like to know in my heart it wasn’t about oil.”

But she leans to Bush because of even graver doubts about Kerry. “Where is the money coming from to do the things he wants to do?” she asked.

Carrie Effinger, 34, is a 2000 Bush voter who leans to Kerry because “I’m tired of the tax cuts for the wealthy.” But she expressed concerns that echoed the Bush media campaign.

“Indecisiveness and flip-flopping,” she said. But she added, “The thing that worries me about Bush is he hasn’t been truthful.” She said that “it’s too late” for Bush to regain her vote.

Though women have traditionally voted more on domestic matters than national security, half of them listed foreign policy issues as their top concern. Unsurprisingly, most were Bush voters.

“If we don’t have safety within our community, with our loved ones, there’s no need to worry about (issues like) health care,” said Jackie Marz, a 32-year-old nurse. Heather Bronnson, 31, is an accounts receivable specialist and the group’s only 2000 Gore voter who is now backing Bush.

“He’s the man who does what he says he’s going to do,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to switch gears in the middle of the war.”

But Maria Solis, 38, an industrial coordinator who voted for Gore and backs Kerry, said that Bush’s decision to attack Iraq deflected attention from the nation’s main overseas challenge.

“We had a problem,” she said. “But it wasn’t Iraq. It was Afghanistan.”

Like some other Kerry voters, she said he is more honest about the nation’s problems than Bush. “He looks honest,” agreed Tricia Holub, 34, a stay-at-home mother and part-time college student. “I think that Bush has lied to me time and time again.”

Only two, both Kerry voters, cited economic issues.

“I like that he wants to do more for the working class than the rich,” said Monica Rogers, 24, a nursing student who voted for Bush in 2000 and backs Kerry this time. However, she was worried that Kerry might raise taxes.

Several expressed concerns about social issues, such as gay marriage and abortion, stressed by the Bush campaign. None said they were crucial in determining their votes, though at least two agreed with fellow Bush voter Marz that “his values are more in line with mine.”