Palin fails to woo women voters

WASHINGTON (AFP) With only three weeks to go in the US presidential election and casting about for a winning strategy, Republican hopeful John McCain is wooing undecided women voters with talk of housing.

Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama, 47, enjoys the support of 51 per cent of women voters, suggests an opinion poll for the Wall Street Journal and NBC News last week, a full 10 percentage points ahead of McCain, 72.

Nevertheless, campaigning in the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, McCain went out of his way to underline a plank in his program likely to appeal to wavering women voters – housing.

Recent studies suggest that housing, along with health care, is the most important for women voters who identify themselves as neither Republican nor Democrat.

‘The dream of owning a home should not be crushed under the weight of a bad mortgage,’ said McCain in a campaign swing through Pennsylvania where he was joined on stage by Sarah Palin, his vice-presidential running mate.

In a televised debate with Obama the day before, McCain said that, if elected, his administration would take over failing home loans – ensuring that hard-pressed families can keep their roofs over their heads.

His campaign says the program would cost $300 billion although it remains unclear how McCain – who has been pushing tax cuts — would come up with the cash in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan admits frankly that housing is ‘a pressing issue for all of us, and especially independent female voters’.

Nationwide, women in the United States account for more than half the electorate.

Not by chance does McCain’s housing policy closely resemble one laid out during the primaries by former first lady Hillary Clinton in her unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination.

Since Clinton conceded to Obama, the McCain campaign has strived to poach as many of her supporters as it could – particularly in blue-collar states such as Pennsylvania where her popularity ran higher.

Picking the nationally unknown Palin as his running mate – putting her in pole position to be the first woman vice president – was explicitly meant to swing women voters to the McCain camp.

‘Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America,’ Palin said in Ohio. ‘But it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.’

But opinion polls indicate that her place on the Republican ticket has had virtually no impact among women voters. If anything, she is more popular among male voters.

What’s more, the majority of women who supported Clinton favour abortion rights and universal health care. Palin – who has an unmarried pregnant teen daughter – opposes both abortion, even for rape and incest victims, and federal health insurance for all.

‘Gender may have gotten their attention, but it’s agenda that gets their vote,’ said Celinda Liake, a prominent pollster and strategist for the Democratic Party.

During Tuesday’s televised debate, Obama was more specific on the topic of health care, raising such issues as reimbursing mammograms or maternity care. Such talk never came out of McCain’s mouth.