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Women's vote: elusive prize in Election 2000

Race, religion, and region all factor more heavily in how women vote than gender.

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Liz Ingram Walsh is the kind of suburban swing voter - one of the much-hyped "soccer moms" - that both Al Gore and George W. Bush are working hard to cozy up to. But she bristles at the thought of being labeled that way.

A new mother from White Plains, N.Y., who's just resigned from her job, Ms. Walsh is a registered independent who voted for Bill Clinton in '92 and Bob Dole in '96.

"I'm either a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican," she says, with her three-month-old daughter cooing in the background. "It really depends on the person."

With all the hype about the power of women's vote this year, the complexity of individual voters like Walsh sometimes gets lost in the media frenzy. Women are by no means a monolithic voting bloc. In fact, things like race, religion, and geography can play a greater role in women's voting behavior than gender. And any politician forgets that at his or her own peril.

"I don't think there's a women's vote, per se," says Anna Greenberg of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "There are areas where women are more liberal than men, and men are more conservative than women, but to say women are 'X' or men are 'Y' is a mistake."

There is no question that so-called women's issues - education, healthcare, Social Security, and gun control - are topping the political agenda this year for the first time in recent memory. And that's given fuel to "soccer mom" frenzy.

Because more women identify them as top concerns than men (in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, of the 28 percent who identified healthcare as their top issue, 61 percent were women) both Vice President Gore and Governor Bush are busily fashioning their accomplishments and promises to appeal to women.

Many pundits contend they're on the right track. And many women's activists believe that this year, unlike others billed that way, really could be the "year of the woman."

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