Americans closed the books on the 20th century without electing a female president, and a poll out today suggests that, while overwhelmingly receptive to the idea, people continue to favor men on key issues and personal characteristics. The "Women in Elected Office" poll of 1,500 adults found that 60 percent of Americans expect to see a woman elected president in their lifetime. But 75 percent don't expect it to happen within the next decade, and a third believe that "there are general characteristics about women that make them less qualified to serve as president."

On the two characteristics respondents listed as most important to being a "good president," men held the advantage: 51 percent said a man would do a better job in leading the nation through a crisis, and 38 percent said a man would do a better job in making tough decisions.

However, on the next two most important qualities--honesty and trustworthiness--women had a clear advantage over men.

In the issues arena, men were viewed as more likely to do a better job on the economy, law and order, and foreign policy. Women held the edge on social issues and moral questions. On most issues, however, the advantages held by either gender were slight and respondents were just as likely to say there would be no difference at all.

A plurality of those surveyed said the fact that a presidential candidate was a woman would make them more likely to vote for her, not less.

Pollster Holly Heline, who helped conduct the poll for the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, attributed that to the fact that, "on the surface," Americans support the idea of a woman as president but on key issues continue to favor men.

"I call it the 'yes, but . . . ' approach to women and politics," Heline said.

Gore's Debate Challenge for GOP Rival

When Vice President Gore challenged Democrat Bill Bradley to engage in twice-weekly debates rather than exchange a barrage of 30-second ads, Bradley dismissed it as a "ploy." But Gore has become so enamored with the tactic, he plans to issue the same challenge to his eventual Republican opponent.

"If I have the privilege of carrying your banner, I will hound that other party's nominee coast to coast and border to border with a challenge to debate twice a week, accepting every format, accepting every invitation within reason," he told Democratic activists at the University of Iowa Tuesday night.

"We do not have to accept this insipid approach to having these little meaningless, poll-tested, fuzzy, clever, ultimately destructive messages that demean our democracy," Gore declared.

Months ago, the Gore team worried that the fund-raising issue could be the vice president's Achilles' heel, given his controversial appearance at a Buddhist temple in the last campaign and his assertion that there was "no controlling legal authority" governing his solicitation calls from the White House.

But Gore, apparently emboldened by his challenge to Bradley, said Tuesday, "I honestly believe we have an opportunity as Americans to focus the collective outrage that Americans feel about what has become of our political system and campaign finance system."

In the meantime, Gore's own poll-tested, 30-second ads will continue airing in New Hampshire and Iowa.

Hatch Ad Attacks Clinton-Gore Team

One of the hallmarks of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch's shoestring presidential campaign is that he hasn't had the cash to run 30-second ads. But the Utah Republican has saved enough nickels for a 28-minute ad, which debuted in New Hampshire last night and will run a total of four times in the Granite State and Iowa.

While making only glancing criticisms of George W. Bush and John McCain, Hatch assails the Clinton-Gore administration, saying it may be remembered "as the most deceitful and corrupt in our nation's history" and "worse than Watergate."

Hatch charges the administration with misusing such federal agencies as the FBI and the IRS and with abusing its power in raising millions in illegal campaign contributions. He also complains of "a massive breach of U.S. nuclear secrets by the Chinese government."

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said that "this kind of rhetoric is generally indicative of a campaign that hasn't found its reason for being yet," adding that President Clinton and Vice President Gore have compiled "a record many Republicans wish they could run on."

Senate Democrats Raise Record Amount

Senate Democrats yesterday reported raising a record $25.5 million for their campaign committee last year, with enough cash on hand at year's end--$10.75 million--to give their traditionally better financed Republican rivals a run for their money.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee claimed it has never been in better financial shape at this point in an election cycle, noting that two years ago at this time it reported raising $16 million and having $1.1 million in the bank.

Senate Republicans said their figures are not yet ready for release but indicated that the two parties' year-end cash totals are likely to be closer than usual.

Staff writers Ceci Connolly, Howard Kurtz and Helen Dewar contributed to this report.