Aware that other groups, especially women and minorities, might not be as swayed by military action, Bush kept one eye on domestic outreach even while Iraq dominated the headlines. Meeting with small business owners at the White House on April 15, he made sure to include women entrepreneurs, according to Karen Kerrigan of the Small Business Survival Committee, who was there. "What they've done in terms of reaching out to women and women business owners is particularly smart and wise given the continued growth of women-owned businesses," she said.
But such activities have been mostly under the radar screen, and there is little evidence that the gender gap has narrowed significantly since 2000, when Bush won 46 percent of the female vote -- more than Bob Dole had received in 1996 but still enough to lose if the number of male voters shrinks.
If anything, women are more suspicious of Bush now than they were during the last campaign, when he emphasized education initiatives on a near-daily basis, promoted the spirit of "compassion," and even adopted the slogan, "W Stands for Women," according to Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
"They did a pretty good job of eradicating the gender gap in the last election. They made Bush look more moderate than he is on abortion rights" and other subjects, Burk said. She pointed to an array of policy decisions and appointments -- such as the selection of Wade Horn, who advocates preferential treatment for married women among welfare seekers, in a senior role at the Department of Health and Human Services -- as evidence that Bush is slowly dismantling the women's rights apparatus in the government.
And just last week, women's groups were outraged by the White House's refusal to condemn Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, for remarks that compared homosexuality with incest and polygamy.
Labor unions had an arguably longer honeymoon with the administration: Despite backing Gore in 2000, Teamsters president James P. Hoffa was invited to the 2002 State of the Union address, one of several moves Republicans have made to win the support of unions, which can play a pivotal role in swing states such as West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Bush also hosted the Carpenters Union president Douglas McCarron on Air Force One.
When Bush decided to impose tariffs on steel imports shortly after taking office, advisers called it a nod to unions. And he has emphasized the benefits that allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would have for both laborers and their employers, one aspect of an energy policy that appealed to some labor officials.
But Bush has been at odds with the unions as well, especially with his decision to allow Mexican truck drivers access to US highways -- which the unions oppose. Bush has also not weighed in on whether to remove federal oversight of the Teamsters, which the union is seeking. And other unions, under a new political coalition, are vowing to raise at least $20 million to defeat Bush in 2004.
"Initially, [Bush advisers] threw out a huge net to disaffected Democrats and those who were disenchanted with the party, but over the last two years, the administration has failed to capitalize on some of the disarray that was taking place among the Democrats," said Donna Brazile, Gore's campaign manager in 2000.
"Labor is more organized, more unified than ever before," she said. "Clearly, the women's vote is going to be a very important swing vote for both political parties, but I don't see any huge effort to rally women. And Hispanics? Gore captured over 60 percent of the vote. Republicans are trying to capture 40 percent. I think in the long term, Democrats will be able to bring back their constituencies and solidify their base once the nominee is chosen."
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