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Virginia's 'Gender Gap' Makes Gubernatorial Race A Toss-Up

By Gene Randall/CNN

beyer

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Oct. 13) -- Two off-year elections for governor next month, in New Jersey and Virginia, will help set the political stage for 1998, when voters in three dozen states make gubernatorial choices. Of special interest to both major parties in Virginia is the "gender gap."

Virginia's Democratic Lt. Gov. Don Beyer is way ahead with women voters in his quest for the governor's mansion, helped by his support for abortion rights.

Former GOP state Attorney General James Gilmore, with a tough law-and-order image, holds a sizable lead among male voters. One of Gilmore's TV ads says, "His record: Parole abolished. Juveniles arrested for rape or murder tried as adults. Three strikes and you're out."

In part, because of the gender gap, with less than a month to go, the Virginia race is a toss-up.

Experts cite a national trend that's worrisome to both parties.

gilmore

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says, "The Republicans cannot hemorrhage among Republican, suburban women; they need those votes in '98 and 2000. And I think Democrats may come to need white men whether it's in '98 or 2000 or beyond."

Losing women voters in Virginia is serious.

"That could hurt Gilmore," says American University professor Mark Rozell, "given the fact there is a majority of women voters in this state, a little bit higher than the norm throughout the country."

Appealing to women, both Beyer and Gilmore promise to upgrade education. Looking to men, each pledges to out-tough the other on crime. And hoping to bridge the gender gap, both candidates offer relief from the state's despised personal-property tax.

Meanwhile, each predicts an ability to boost the gender numbers. Part of Gilmore's pitch for women: "The mandatory arrest policy for spousal abuse," he says, "which I have put into the law of Virginia, which says that if a woman is beaten in her home, there ought to be a mandatory arrest policy."

And millionaire car dealer Beyer presents himself as one of the guys, a businessman and more. "I also think the fact that I've grown up in a blue-collar business learning to be an automobile mechanic also helps me relate," he says. "It helps the average guy in Virginia relate to me."

The Republican party is concerned enough about the gender gap that there is a plan to make it a focus of a large-scale study by pollster Richard Wirthlin. But it is a problem for both parties. Says one political analyst, "It's tough to be a majority party based on just one gender."


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