Her voice barely edged above a whisper, but it was freighted with an emotional timbre that Democratic vice-presidential nominee Geraldine A. Ferraro rarely reveals in public.
"Look at the faces of the women now," she said, gesturing to the predominantly female audience at a Democratic fund-raising dinner here last Monday. "Everybody is projecting themselves up here. And so what I am, I guess, I'm standing in for every one of you."
The women leaped to their feet in a sustained roar of approval, one of the most forceful demonstrations to date that sisterhood is powerful in the 1984 presidential campaign.
It has taken nearly two months for Ferraro to abandon what had been a circumspect appeal to her most obvious and potent constituency -- women -- and make an unambiguous pitch to what she now calls "the bond that exists because of this candidacy."
Her appearance here, like a recent emotional breakfast in Dallas with an estimated 5,000 women, contrasts dramatically with earlier events, such as a rally in Fort Lee, N.J., on Aug. 26. It was both Ferraro's birthday and that of suffragist Susan B. Anthony -- and thus Women's Equality Day. But the candidate skimmed briefly over topics related to women's rights before launching into a discourse on Defense Department procurement practices.
"I don't really have a good explanation except that earlier she was preoccupied with other stuff," said Steven Engelberg, Ferraro's issues director last week. "She has said publicly and privately that there's obviously a historic quality to her candidacy and that she's aware of the responsibility."
Another senior aide added, "Now we think we need to hit a little more directly with women. Frankly, we need to do better among women. I'm not happy with the number of women supporting Reagan."
A Washington Post-ABC News nationwide poll of close to 12,000 people shows that although the three-term House member from Queens, N.Y. has strong support among women voters, it is not as overwhelming as might be expected for the first woman to be nominated for national office by a major party.
For example, slightly more than half of the women polled view Ferraro favorably, while one-third view her unfavorably. The rest had no opinion. She does best in the the East, where the favorable-unfavorable split is 57 to 29 percent. But in the South and West, fewer than half of the women voters view her favorably.
The poll also shows that Ferraro has her own "gender gap," with 38 percent of male voters viewing her favorably compared with 50 percent who see her unfavorably.
Similar results from other polls caused the Ferraro campaign to modify its tactics about three weeks ago to begin to stress aggressively both Ferraro's gender and the difference between the Democrats and Republicans on so-called women's issues.
Now, instead of just referring to her support for the Equal Rights Amendment and projecting herself as a peace candidate, Ferraro is inclined, as she was in Harrisburg, Pa., last week, to discuss her position on specific women's concerns, which she contends separates the Democratic ticket from the Republicans: pro-choice on abortion; "increased federal monies for programs that affect women," such as food stamps and nutrition programs; and vigorous enforcement of equal pay for women doing the same work as men.
Also, Ferraro spotted an article in the Sept. 25 issue of Commonweal, a Roman Catholic magazine, which articulated some of her thoughts about her candidacy.She gave the article to speechwriter Fred Martin with this passage circled:
"The bond she has created with the female voting public is something no man could have done . . . . The eyes that swelled with pride as they looked at Ferraro were not eyes of personal adulation; they were acknowledgments of kinship."
Even if the Democratic national ticket on Nov. 6 takes the kind of drubbing the pollsters foresee, Ferraro will have cut a wider swath than most of her predecessors.
By showing grace under pressure and an inner toughness, she seems to have defused any rational basis for the assertion that a Ferraro defeat will poison the well for future women candidates for high office.
Regardless of the polls showing surprisingly high negative views among women, Ferraro's strategists believe that the bond their candidate now openly describes may yet translate into millions of votes.