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America's Mars-Venus political divide

Denver, Oct. 24: Four years ago, Susan 'Hare backed Al Gore for President. Still, she was grateful George W. Bush was in charge on September 11, 2001.

'I felt very safe with Bush for many months after 9/11,' said the 49-year-old paralegal. Slowly, however, 'Hare soured on the incumbent, as Iraq spiralled into chaos.

Now, she plans to vote for Senator John F. Kerry on November 2, even though she thinks he is making a lot of promises he probably can't keep. 'My thinking is it's got to be better than what's going on right now,' said 'Hare, pausing near Colorado's gold-domed Capitol on a sunny afternoon last week.

The gender gap might be re-emerging, thanks to voters including 'Hare, perpetuating the Mars-Venus political divide between men, who lean Republican, and women, who lean Democratic, that has been a fixture of presidential politics since Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter a generation ago. But the size of the gap remains in question ' and the answer might determine who wins on November 2.

Democrat Gore carried the women's vote by 11 percentage points in 2000. This year, however, polls for a time showed Bush running even with or better than Kerry among women, as terrorism and domestic security crowded out healthcare, the economy and other bread-and-butter concerns.

But after his strong debate performances, some recent surveys ' although not all ' have shown Kerry regaining the traditional Democratic edge among women. Bush continues to lead among male voters, according to all polls, although his support has dropped from four years ago among those with a college education.

'The hope all along has been that Kerry would perform better among men than Democrats have in the recent past,' said Jim Jordan, a party strategist who managed Kerry's campaign for part of the primary season. 'But right now, it looks like things are rounding out sort of to familiar form.' Which means that, barring a sudden turnabout among men, Kerry probably will have to win a sizable majority of the women's vote to capture the White House.

A couple wearing cowboy hats listens to President George W. Bush at a rally in Florida. (AFP)

'Anything short of about what Gore did is going to be very, very dangerous for Kerry,' said Carroll Doherty, editor of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

A poll released by the Center showed the presidential race tied, with Kerry leading by 10 percentage points among women, who traditionally represent a larger share of the electorate than males, while trailing Bush by 11 points among men.

The other polls showing Kerry ahead among women gave him a smaller advantage.

Continuing efforts to shore up his support, Kerry on Friday delivered a speech in Milwaukee aimed at working women, saying they are putting in longer hours and 'falling further and further behind'.

'Today, for far too many women, the American Dream seems a million miles away, because you've barely got time to sleep, and when you've barely got time to sleep, you've barely got time to dream,' said Kerry, who called for a higher minimum wage, equalising pay for men and women doing the same job and expanding the availability of healthcare.

In 2000, nearly 8 million more women than men went to the polls nationwide. They voted in greater numbers in 17 of the 18 hardest-fought states. This year, dozens of groups are working to boost women's turnout even higher.

The candidates have taken note. Just this week, both sides launched ads featuring mothers and daughters.

When polls in mid-September showed his support among women lagging, Kerry began talking more about domestic matters. Perhaps most important, he talked up domestic concerns in his debates with Bush, calling for expanded stem-cell research, allowing importation of prescription drugs and appointing Supreme Court justices who would keep abortion legal.

Kerry's debate performance also seems to have solidified the support of voters including Gayle Atherton, who was turned off long ago by Bush but hadn't mustered much enthusiasm for his opponent.

'I thought Kerry handled himself exceptionally well,' said the 57-year-old sales clerk, who was reading a romance novel on her break outside Lord and Taylor at the Cherry Creek Mall. 'He answered questions in a manner that made me believe that he really does feel about the issues I'm worried about.'

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