Many Congressional Races Hinge on Female Vote

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Some polls show the undecided voters of this election are women, particularly suburban women with children, who don't focus on politics along conventional party lines. They are concerned about national and economic security, and their votes are pivotal this fall, especially in the hotly contested suburban congressional districts near Philadelphia, where four seats are at stake.


Meanwhile back in the election campaign of 2006, a new poll released today by the National Council for Research on Women says women voters favor candidates who are for bringing U.S. troops out of Iraq and by a ratio of nearly three to one.

NPR's Linda Wertheimer is just back from Pennsylvania, where incumbent Republican Congressman Curt Weldon is in a very tough race to hold onto his district in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Linda spent some time talking with women voters there.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: The war in Iraq is the issue with women we met. After an aerobics class at the Swarthmore Community Center, retired teacher Susan Larson told us she demonstrates against the war.

Ms. SUSAN LARSON: This is our big thing, big move that we really want to get Congress to be a Democratic one so that this whole change can occur.

WERTHEIMER: What sort of change would you imagine would happen if the House were to be Democratic?

Ms. LARSON: I'm hoping that we kind of take away this overt - I'm a Quaker -militarism for more negotiation and diplomacy. That's the word I want. Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: The question of whether or not the Democrats do a better job almost takes a back seat for Karen Rosa. She owns an upholstery business and she wants Republican incumbents gone.

Ms. KAREN ROSA: They've been here forever. These names just keep coming up and coming up. It's the same old, same old. These are old guys who are doing the same thing. Don't listen. They don't have to listen because they do it and they've been getting away with it. We have to change this.

WERTHEIMER: Most of this group of independents and Democrats routinely vote for some Republicans. I asked if they had concerns about voting against an incumbent they'd formerly supported. For most, the answer was easy.

Ms. ELEANOR FIRST(ph): We just have to get these guys - Congress has done nothing for eight years. The Democrats are, you know, I don't know. Nobody's done anything. Yeah. I just want a change.

WERTHEIMER: Would you cast a vote for change even if you liked the incumbent.

Ms. ROSA: I don't want to think that I'm just going to vote for a change. Change isn't - well, we need a change, but I think maybe one seat wouldn't make the difference and I could therefore vote my conscience.

WERTHEIMER: That was Eleanor First and then Karen Rosa.

Out in the development in Aston, an area where many new homes were built after 9/11, we met young mothers, the kind of voters the president is speaking to when he warns that Democrats will not fight the war on terror.

That's a serious message for Tracy Gilligan, who has two small children.

Ms. TRACY GILLIGAN: It's something that I almost think of daily. It's actually to the point now that if I haven't had the TV on and they cut in for a news break I think oh, my gosh. Did something happen again? Like, the panic of that happening again. So it is important to me. But I don't think there's not a politician out there who's going to say that they're not going to do something to fight terrorism.

WERTHEIMER: Heather Buckley, on maternity leave from teaching, confirms her friend's view that on terrorism, the Republican Party does not necessarily have the answers.

Ms. HEATHER BUCKLEY: Well, the way President Bush has handled the war on terror is definitely an issue for me. I do think that we need to make sure that we vote people into office who do a good job of protecting our borders and protecting us on a domestic level, but I think that the way the United States handled itself on an international level has been horrible and probably had the opposite effect. It pains me to see what we've done in the last six years.

WERTHEIMER: In a new development in King of Prussia, a wealthier suburb, we met Chris Wells, a lifelong Republican who has heard the president's message on security.

Ms. CHRIS WELLS: Even though the war in Iraq is not going as this administration had hoped for, I'm sure, and it probably needs a new direction and new plans, I still think the Republicans probably hold an edge, for me anyway, on the security issue.

WERTHEIMER: Wells will vote to reelect GOP incumbents, but if Democrats take over, she said, so be it.

But Heather Cardero, a former teacher, mother of three, wants the country to move to the middle. She objects to mixing religion and politics and to increased government spending. For those reasons, she's emphatically opposed to Pennsylvania's Republican Senate incumbent, Rick Santorum. She plans to vote for his opponent, Robert Casey, Jr.

Ms. HEATHER CARDERO: Well, I'm an independent but I hate Rick Santorum so much that I'm going to vote for Casey, who I honestly resent that I have to vote for him because I want a Democratic Congress to have more checks and balances in our government.

WERTHEIMER: I gather from what you're saying that you think that that would somehow open a conversation that would be important to have.

Ms. CARDERO: Exactly. You were asking before, like, what is the most important issues to you. And to me, it's social issues like stem cell research. I'm pro-choice but at the same time, I want to be fiscally responsible. I want a little bit of everything. So once they come to the table, maybe we could have some talk and I'll feel more represented that way.

WERTHEIMER: Polls currently show that Republican incumbents are running behind in Pennsylvania's 7th District.

Reporting on women voters, Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.

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