Five candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination wooed the women's vote here today with promises to appoint a record number of women to Cabinet positions, curb defense spending increases, restore domestic spending cuts and keep the country out of war in Central America.
The five articulated positions were so similar and so firmly entrenched in mainstream Democratic thinking that the "cattle show" before the National Women's Political Caucus became a repetitive exercise in Saying All the Right Things.
The five who spoke were former vice president Walter F. Mondale and Sens. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and John Glenn (D-Ohio).
The only candidate who seemed to separate himself from the field was Hart, and the way he did it reflected the activist women's level of scrutiny.
Hart miffed many of the more than 1,000 women in the hall when he repeatedly ignored a timekeeper's signals that he had run over the seven-minute allotment for his opening speech.
During the question-and-answer session that followed, California state legislator Maxine Waters threw out her prepared question and instead asked Hart if his highhanded treatment of the timekeeper was "any indication of your attitude toward women."
Hart apologized and said, "I'll try to do better next time."
After the session, many women went up to Waters to thank her for taking the candidate to task. Caucus Chairman Kathy Wilson said she believed the group was "miffed" at the incident, but added that Hart's substantive responses were quite good.
Women panelists got mixed results when they tried to elicit specific pledges from the candidates on appointments, defense cuts and strategies to enact the Equal Rights Amendment.
The closest to an absolute job pledge was a commitment from Hollings to appoint a female attorney general. Otherwise, the candidates recited their records of appointing women to their official and campaign staffs, and made general pledges on the order of Mondale's:
"I will appoint more women to higher positions than any president in American history--and by a substantial margin."
On defense spending, all five pledged reductions in the Reagan budgets, but only Hart would give a specific figure--$100 billion during two to three years.
On the ERA, the candidates said they would use both the horse-trading and the bully-pulpit powers of the presidency to enact it.
"I'd be an LBJ, if you want a real answer," said Hollings. "I'd give a little and take a little, and we'd swap around and have that thing passed in a year's time."
Cranston said he would use his power over bridges and other public-works projects to whip recalcitrant states into line. Glenn said he would convene a national conference at the White House to develop ERA strategies.
Mondale drew the biggest applause of the morning when he attacked Reagan. "He's been complaining about his perception problem with women," he said. "Well, he does have one. He can't see you at all, and you see right through him."
All of the candidates used their remarks to pay deep respects to the voting strength of women, who comprise 53 percent of the voting-age population and who outvoted men by nearly 8 million in 1980.
"It's great to be with the real political power brokers of the country," Cranston said.
Hart said, "There is a gender gap, and I'm afraid that men are on the wrong side of it." On issues of peace and social justice, he said, "You have become the moral leadership of the country."
While all five went to great pains to romance the women's vote--Mondale even interrupted his family vacation for the appearance--no one appeared to have been helped measurably by the weekend. All were reduced to bit players at a convention whose organizers had feared that the candidates' presence would overwhelm the other political business at hand--the defeat of Reagan.
"There is a little bit of a five-dull-white-men feeling going around about the candidates," said one Democratic activist who asked not to be identified. "The real emotion here is over Reagan. I don't think he has three votes at this whole convention."