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Republicans Losing The 'Security Moms'

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By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 18, 2006

CLINTONVILLE, Ohio, Aug. 17 -- Married women with children, the "security moms" whose concerns about terrorism made them an essential part of Republican victories in 2002 and 2004, are taking flight from GOP politicians this year in ways that appear likely to provide a major boost for Democrats in the midterm elections, according to polls and interviews.

This critical group of swing voters -- who are an especially significant factor in many of the most competitive suburban districts on which control of Congress will hinge -- is more inclined to vote Democratic than at any point since Sept. 11, 2001, according to data compiled for The Washington Post by the Pew Research Center.

Married mothers said in interviews here that they remain concerned about national security and the ability of Democrats to keep them safe from terrorist strikes. But surveys indicate Republicans are not benefiting from this phenomenon as they have before.

Disaffection with President Bush, the Iraq war, and other concerns such as rising gasoline prices and economic anxiety are proving more powerful in shaping voter attitudes.

The study, which examined the views of married women with children from April through this week, found that they support Democrats for Congress by a 12-point margin, 50 percent to 38 percent. That is nearly a mirror-image reversal from a similar period in 2002, when this group backed Republicans 53 percent to 36 percent. In 2004, exit polls showed, Bush won a second term in part because 56 percent of married women with children supported him.

Here in suburban Columbus, one of the most important arenas in the 2004 campaign, the diffusion of this support is obvious in interviews, and the political implications are unmistakable.

Jean Thomas, a married mother of one, said she still feels a pang of fear every time she boards an airplane for work travel around the Midwest. "Terrorism," she said, "is the biggest concern on a daily basis."

But she said she is "pretty frustrated with politics driving decisions" in Washington. That is why she said she is strongly considering abandoning her support of Republicans to vote for the Democrats challenging Rep. Deborah Pryce and Sen. Mike DeWine on Nov. 7. Polls show that both Republican incumbents from Ohio are acutely vulnerable.

Significantly, Pew and other polls in recent days have found little or no advantage for Republicans in the aftermath of last week's foiled terrorist plot in London, even as Vice President Cheney and GOP leaders have warned that the event showed the risk of voting for a Democratic Party that they say is dominated by security doves.

Andrew Kohut, who directs the Pew poll, said the "negative impact of Iraq is hurting not only Bush but also the Republican Party as well." No longer, Kohut said, is "terrorism alone enough to keep" married women and other voters in the GOP fold.

Yet the shift is not attributable to Iraq alone. Elizabeth Moore, a married mother of one, said she is frustrated by the war but sees no better alternative. "I am one of those who, when a bully slaps you in the face, you slap them back," she said.

Still, the self-described moderate Republican and Bush supporter said the military operation has distracted GOP lawmakers such as Pryce from equally important issues back home. "Too much time in Washington," Moore scoffed, explaining why she is likely to vote for Pryce's Democratic opponent this time. She voted for Pryce in 2004.


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