Boomer dads emerge as pivotal swing vote

These 'sensitive' men should lean Democratic on the issues. But so far, they're heavily for Bush.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Baby boomer dads - the flip side of soccer moms - are emerging as a pivotal swing vote this year. And that's turning out to be trouble for Al Gore.

Boomer dads tend to be a more sensitive breed than some of their less domestically involved forefathers. That's made them more attuned to the so-called softer, Democratic issues like education and healthcare.

But they've never warmed to the vice president. In fact, they've been overwhelmingly leaning toward Texas Gov. George W. Bush. So much so, that Mr. Gore is losing them faster than any other group of men.

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"It should be the flip side of that - they should be the most favorable toward Gore," says pollster John Zogby.

Some analysts say that's reflective of a changing demographic, one that portends well for Republicans in the future. Dads of the baby-boom generation and younger are far more likely to be Republican than their fathers were.

But other analysts attribute Gore's dad difficulties to his overall trouble igniting a spark with the general electorate.

Recent polls show Gore trailing Mr. Bush by 12 points or more. He's even been slipping among his core supporters - Democrats and women.

"A lot of it has to do with who he is and how he projects himself," says Mr. Zogby. "He's coming off all head and no heart."

That's also a key reason Zogby believes Gore hasn't inspired much loyalty among men of his own generation. They're the guys with working wives who've been more actively involved in nurturing their kids and doing the daily dishes than their fathers were.

Gore is in many ways a prototypical baby-boomer father. He prided himself on taking his kids to church on Sundays. In the evening, according to his wife, Tipper, he'd gather the family round for a "group dialogue" to "get their needs out onto the table."

But that image hasn't done much to endear him to peers like Patrick Kissane, a divorced father and investment banker in New York.

Education is his top concern now that he has a daughter in elementary school. But Mr. Kissane thinks Bush will handle school reform better than Gore will. "Bush has done a good job in Texas," he says. "And I don't think it's fair that the Democrats have always gotten associated with education. Republicans care about it too; they're just more low-key."

That assessment is not surprising, say some analysts, considering how Gore has struggled to get his message out after the primaries. He's often come across as stiff, and sometimes disingenuous. The "Progress and Prosperity" tour that was supposed to put his campaign back on track by highlighting the administration's economic successes was sidelined by questions about his 1996 fundraising activities and spiraling gasoline prices.

At the same time, Bush has been championing traditionally Democratic themes, from education to Social Security, touting himself as a different kind of "compassionate" Republican. He says he wants a smaller government, but one that "cares."

It's an appeal that's working with boomer dads.

"Years ago, more people looked at the government as a necessary partner in helping to rear the children, and today people look at it as an unnecessary nuisance, an intrusion," says Republican pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick.

Gore does have some admirers in his own generation, in part because he, too, is championing the notion of leveraging government to give parents more of what they need - like child care and improved education.

Scientist Michael Steele of Seattle is the father of five-year-old Tova. Education is a top concern for him, and he's firmly in Gore's camp.

"Everybody says they're for education, but I couldn't vote for someone like Bush who's clearly anti-public-schools or would be mixing schools and religion," says Mr. Steele.

But Steele is a minority among 30- and 40-something dads. And that's why some analysts believe the larger demographic change is the real problem dogging Gore.

Younger male voters in general tend to be less partisan and less Democratic than their fathers. And they are far less likely to be involved in the kinds of programs the Democratic Party has traditionally championed - from Head Start to Social Security, which have won the loyalty of a lot of women and older voters.

"They're also at a point in their life cycle when they're involved with things like marriages, kids, going to church, that tend to make them more conservative," says Anna Greenberg, a pollster at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass.

Luis Galarza, a father of two from Brooklyn, N.Y., agrees with her in part.

But he says helping to clean the house, change diapers, and give the kids baths have also made him more sensitive.

"I now really understand what she had to go through," he says smiling, pointing to his wife, Jessica, as the family sat next to the carousel in Central Park.

But neither Bush nor Gore interests him right now. And he doesn't even know if he's going to vote.

"Maybe in the future I'll vote if one of them can convince me they'll really do something better for my kids," he says. "But right now, I'm not convinced. I don't think it's worth my time."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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