Ronald Reagan, who never seemed to get the girl back in his days as a movie actor, is having the same problem as a presidential candidate.
While Reagan still clings to a narrow overall lead over President Carter in national public opinion polls, those same polls show that if the choice were left to the women of America, Carter would be the leader.
A recent poll of eight key states by The Washington Post, for example, showed Reagan leading the president among male voters, 39 percent to 34 percent. But among women, the ratio was almost reversed with Carter enjoying the advantage, 38 percent to 31 percent.
There is also widespread agreement among pollsters such as George Gallup and political operatives in both campaigns that the issue that is hurting Reagan most among women voters is the fear -- hammered on constantly by the Carter campaign -- that he might embroil the country in war.
According to Gallup, Reagan is not the only candidate to encounter problems with women voters over the so-called "war and peace" issue. Historically, according to the pollster, the women's vote has gone to the candidate perceived as more likely to preserve the peace.
But Reagan's weakness with women voters may also be complicated by other factors. His opposition to the equal rights amendment and his strong antiabortion stand have clearly alienated activist feminists. While Carter has traveled the country stressing the peace theme and his commitment on issues such as education, which pollsters believe have strong appeal to women, Reagan has stressed more male-oriented issues such as national defense and the economy.
All of these factors, according to one analyst, have combined to produce a clear sense of uneasiness among women, who traditionally take longer than men to settle on a firm presidential preference. "I don't sense an anti-Reagan feeling among women, but women are holding back on Reagan," he said.
The Republican nominee moved this week to attempt to overcome his lagging support among women by promising that he would appoint a woman to "one of the first Supreme Court vacancies in my administration."
It is far from clear, however, whether this pledge alone will help to shore up Reagan's support among women.
"It won't do him much good," said Iris Mitgang, a Democrat and head of the activist National Women's Political Caucus.
Mitgang said that Reagan will have to change his stands on the ERA and abortion before he can begin to crack the feminist vote and she calls the poll findings of Reagan's problem with women because of the war and peace issue "absolutely accurate."
"Our organization was founded in the belief that women can make a difference, and specifically one of those areas was the peace issue," she said. d
A remarkably similar analysis of why Reagan trails among women voters was offered by Betty Heitman, who as cochairman of the Republican National Committee and president of the National Federation of Republican Women, comes from the other end of the political spectrum.
"Two things have happened," she said. "The message out of the convention was that the Republican Party had repudiated the ERA because the governor did not support it. A lot of women view the ERA as a symbol and felt that it was a put-down to women."
The second factor, according to Heitman, is that "Jimmy Carter has been very effective in painting Gov. Reagan as trigger-happy and a warmonger. Most women are scared to death if they think anyone would get us into war."
The Republican platform did not endorse the ERA for the first time in 40 years, but recognized the "legitimacy" of both support and opposition to the amendment and also called for an end to sex discrimination. Regan has also pledged to end discrimination by statute rather than by the proposed constitutional amendment.
It was clear from the Post poll of the eight key states that women are uneasy with the idea of Reagan as commander in chief. For example, when men were asked which of the two candidates would be better able to deal with a hostile foreign government, 47 percent said Reagan and 37 percent said Carter. But when the same question was put to women, 46 percent said the president and 32 percent said his GOP opponent.
The weakness of the Republican candidate among women is just the opposite from the situation of four years ago. In 1976, then-President Ford had strong support among women, in part, analysts believe, because of his close identity with highly visible family. In contrast, Reagan in some ways seems like a man without' a family. He is accompanied everywhere by his wife, Nancy, who smiles constantly but almost never speaks publicly, unlike Betty Ford. Reagan has four children, but they are barely mentioned in the campaign.
In the Post poll, 20 percent of the women were undecided, compared with 14 percent of the men, which means that it is not necessarily too late for Reagan to increase his share of the women's vote.
Heitman said the RNC has been mailing out material on Reagan's support for equal rights for women by means other than the ERA and is organizing an "outreach" program of women who will stump the country for the Republican candidate, stressing the equal rights message and arguing that he has been unfairly portrayed by Carter as a "warmonger."