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Why women are edging toward Bush

A growing group of 'security moms' puts national safety at the top of their list, weakening a traditionally Democratic base.

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The latest TIPP poll for The Christian Science Monitor shows Bush closing the gap with Kerry on two key indexes. On leadership, a 9.8-point gap between men and women in June closed to 1 point in September - with Bush's score among women rising more than 6 points as it declined 1 point among men. On economic optimism, an 8.6-point gap in June is just half a point in September, with women's optimism rising as men's fell slightly.

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Other data show the traditional breakdown between men and women. The latest American Research Group poll shows Bush beating Kerry 51 percent to 42 percent among men, while Kerry beats Bush 50 percent to 42 percent among women.

But no Democrats are resting easy, as long as some polls show Kerry with trouble retaining women's votes. They know that in a race that remains close, they must turn out their base voters - and that there's little margin for error. According to Lake, 66 percent of undecideds are women.

One of Bush's not-so-secret weapons is his wife, Laura, the most popular figure on the campaign trail. Kerry's wife, Teresa, a foreign-born billionaire, is not as accessible to middle America, and is less well-known to the public, pollsters say.

Bush and Kerry have also done much image-shaping this campaign season, some of it with a gender-oriented slant. In one turn, they are both flexing their macho muscles - Kerry being the gun-toting, motorcycle-riding, expletive-using he-man while Bush clears brush at his ranch and makes jokes about his Texas swagger.

To some women, all that may be a turnoff - but in this post-9/11 world, analysts say, just as many of the "security moms" want a little macho in the White House (or a lot). To the women who roll their eyes at all that manly posturing, both campaigns have offered up their guys' softer sides. Kerry made nice with Regis and Kelly this week. Both candidates have sat for interviews with Dr. Phil.

But Linda DiVall, a GOP pollster and expert on women voters, thinks all that pales in comparison to Bush's core appeal: "More than anything, voters see a moral clarity with Bush, a man of conviction."

For some women with views that conflict with the president's positions, this is a year when one issue tops everything else. Dori Rocco, a receptionist at Confetti's Hair and Body Studio in Ross Township, Pa., favors abortion rights, gay marriage, and expanded stem-cell research, but she has just changed her registration from independent to Republican and will vote Bush in November. "I think he's a strong leader," says Ms. Rocco. "I think he's the best on the war on terror."

In the university town of Madison, Wisconsin, it's hard to find Bush supporters. But among women interviewed there, it was also hard to find someone enthusiastic about Kerry. One woman named Jeanne, who declined to give her last name, has suffered financially in recent years and certainly won't vote for Bush. "He's for the rich people," she says. "He's for the oil. He's for himself." But, she adds, "I'm scared of Kerry." Her vote, if she turns out at all, remains up for grabs.

Frank Bures and Sara B. Miller contributed to this report.