Women are flocking to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Democratic presidential candidacy and men are doing the same for Republican Fred Thompson. Yet for all that support, both candidates are showing early vulnerabilities wooing voters of the opposite sex.
Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and tough-guy actor on television’s “Law and Order,” gets 68 percent of his support from males as he edges toward a run for the GOP presidential nomination, far more than other hopefuls, according to recent Associated Press-Ipsos polling. While he and front-runner Rudy Giuliani each draw nearly a quarter of the Republican male vote, he significantly trails his chief rivals among women.
“He seems to be closer to the conservative that I am,” said Richard Bussa, 60, a Thompson supporter and retired newspaper writer from Minford, Ohio. “Playing on the police shows he’s on, he does present a hard-nosed, law-and-order-type guy.”
On the Democratic side, Clinton is showing a mirror-image weakness, though one less stark than Thompson’s.
The New York senator and former first lady gets 63 percent of her support from women and has more than twice the female backing of her nearest rival, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in AP-Ipsos surveys. She has only a slender lead among men, who are splitting their allegiances about evenly among her, Obama and former Vice President Al Gore, who has not said he will run.
“She’s competent, she’s tough,” said Diana Roberts, 54, a teacher from Edison, N.J. “And I think it’s time” for a woman to be president.
These patterns make Clinton and Thompson formidable forces within their parties. A slight majority of GOP voters are men, who tend to be more conservative than women, while just over half of Democratic voters are female, according to figures from recent national elections.
Analysts caution that women tend to choose their candidates later than men, and that many people aren’t closely following the campaigns yet. Even so, Thompson and Clinton would each want to attract more voters of the opposite sex should they lead their parties in the 2008 general elections.
“She can certainly win the nomination based on her support with women,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, who is not affiliated with any presidential candidate. “But at the end of the day for the general election, she needs to make sure she can get her fair share of votes among swing men as well.”
Combining data from AP-Ipsos polls from June and July, Clinton — who leads nationally overall — had the support of 41 percent of women. That compared to 19 percent for Obama, 14 percent for Gore and 10 percent for John Edwards. Clinton is strong with women of all ages, married and single.
At the same time, Clinton had the backing of 26 percent of men — slightly more than Obama’s 23 percent and Gore’s 22 percent, while Edwards had 13 percent. Clinton did worst with men who are younger or political independents — the same groups where Obama did best.
Richard Totten, 30, a teacher from Ruther Glen, Va., said he supports Obama because “he’s not your typical politician” and worries that Clinton might recycle policies from her husband Bill’s presidency.
“I wouldn’t vote for a woman just because she’s a woman, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a woman either,” Totten said.
Ann Lewis, senior adviser to Clinton, said Clinton’s leadership ability and the family issues like health care she emphasizes would eventually win over more males.
“I think we have room to grow among men,” said Lewis.
Thompson’s support from 24 percent of men was virtually tied with Giuliani’s 22 percent, and better than the 18 percent who favor Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Thompson draws most of his strength from men over age 45 and married men — who tend to be more conservative than their younger and single counterparts.
Giuliani, the former New York mayor, leads easily among GOP women, winning 26 percent compared to 16 percent for McCain and 12 percent for both Thompson and Mitt Romney. Giuliani, more moderate than Thompson on abortion and other social issues, gets 54 percent of his support from women.
“To say he has a problem with women misses the point,” John McLaughlin, Thompson’s pollster, said of the candidate. “Thompson has surged and he’s in first place among men now and he’s not even in the race. The women voters, they’ll be there.”
Typifying Thompson’s situation is Carolyn Baughn, 70, a retired legal secretary from Jackson, Miss., who says she has seen his television show.
“I haven’t seen him make any real political statements, or have to make any decisions that would pertain to the people of the United States, and I think that means a lot,” said Baughn, a Giuliani supporter.
Also supporting Giuliani is Cheryl Simonich, 50, a training coordinator in West Jordan, Utah, who liked his calm during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She expressed surprise he was doing well among women.
“He’s no George Clooney, you know,” she said, referring to the handsome actor.
The AP-Ipsos poll taken July 9 to 11 involved telephone interviews with 1,004 adults and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
For the combined June and July polls, the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for Republicans and plus or minus 3 percentage points for Democrats.
AP Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.