WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain, in an effort to woo women voters, spent Thursday with the hosts of ABC's "The View" -- a show targeted at women, a key voting bloc.
The interview, taped Thursday, airs Friday.
McCain got a warm welcome but offered a businesslike greeting: handshakes for the hosts.
"Barack Obama gave us a hug," co-host Joy Behar told him.
Then he was coaxed into some hugs, a telling lesson for the Republican candidate to embrace a giant challenge: the gender gap.
That gap is something the Arizona senator needs to tackle, said Carly Fiorina, a McCain adviser and former Hewlett-Packard CEO.
"We need to acknowledge that it exists, and we need to be up front in saying we want to narrow that gap, we are going after the woman vote and he needs to be communicating aggressively both directly and through his surrogates with women all over this country," she said Thursday. Watch more of the interview »
A recent Pew survey from March 19-22 showed McCain's support among women lagging far behind that of his Democratic rivals.
According to Pew, Obama leads McCain among women, 53 percent to 40 percent. Sen. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, leads McCain among women, 56 percent to 39 percent.
Fiorina says women do need a connection, and the challenge is to put McCain "out there where women really can get to know him, get to see him, get to understand him." Watch McCain discuss the economy in New York »
So, nestled on the couch at "The View," McCain softened his approach trying to explain his position on Iraq.
"If we did what many want, which is to set a date for withdrawal and pull out, then I think we pay a very heavy price," he said.
President Bush lost women voters to Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, by 3 points -- 51 percent to 48 percent -- in the 2004 election.
In 2000, Bush lost women voters to former Vice President Al Gore by 11 points: 54 percent to 43 percent.
That would be a harder sell now, but McCain advisers insist that his military experience helps.
"As a woman, I truly believe that it takes a soldier to bring us home with victory and honor in Iraq," Fiorina said.
She added that there are several issues McCain supports that women favor, including education, health care, the environment and stem cell research.
But groups like Planned Parenthood are working to defeat McCain for another reason: his opposition to abortion.
The group commissioned a study showing that more than half of women in key states don't know his position, and it's starting a grass-roots effort to tell them.
"When women voters find out that John McCain opposes Roe v. Wade and sex education and affordable birth control, then they stop supporting him," Planned Parenthood's Samantha Smoot said Thursday.
Smoot said, "These issues -- that impact women on a very personal and important level -- those are going to be taken into consideration at the voting booth." E-mail to a friend