How Should Kerry Talk to Women?

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John Kerry has a new worry: women. Though Democrats have held a traditional advantage among female voters, Kerry seems to have lost that edge. A New York Times/CBS News poll released last week found Kerry's lead of 52% to 40% among women voters in July has turned into a George W. Bush lead of 48% to 43%. Conventional wisdom says Kerry should start talking about issues like education and health care, which presumably matter a lot to soccer moms. But senior aides to Kerry tell TIME that when they asked Democratic women activists last week what topics he should cover at a future event for women voters, the response was as surprising as it was unanimous: terrorism.

Political strategists say women were shaken by the attack on a school in Beslan, Russia, in which scores of children lost their lives. "That was a parent's nightmare," says pollster David Winston, who advises House and Senate Republicans. So Kerry is trying to chip away at Bush's tough-on-terrorists image. Kerry's speech at the National Guard convention last week — in which he argued that the White House has "taken its eye off the ball" and even set back the war on terrorism by invading Iraq — may have been directed as much to women as to the men in the audience.

And what about Bush? His campaign, while continuing to stress his strong-on- terrorism message, has added more traditional appeals. At a women's issues event in Charlotte, N.C., last week, the President noted many more women work now than did in "the old days" and said he wanted to push for more flex time.