What do first ladies mean in a swing state campaign?

With time running out for presidential candidates to appeal to swing state voters, First Lady Laura Bush made a brief visit to Duluth on Thursday to pick up where her husband left off in July.

With time running out for presidential candidates to appeal to swing state voters, First Lady Laura Bush made a brief visit to Duluth on Thursday to pick up where her husband left off in July.

Laura Bush drew a sizable audience to Bayfront Park, where she praised her husband and listed the reasons Americans should elect him for four more years. Much like the president's campaign stop, "four more years" was a popular chant with the crowd at the rally, and undoubtedly echoed through the lifting fog.

But for the president to be re-elected for four more years, professionals and Bush supporters alike are unsure what a visit from the first lady will do for undecided voters in a swing state, more specifically female voters.

"I think that if people are opposed to Bush, it's not going to affect them at all," said Cindy Christian, an assistant professor of women's studies and political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth. "For some undecided voters, she's a very desirable person. She'll talk about those issues that married women with children may care about, if they are undecided."

But, Christian said, the bottom line is that people are going to vote for the presidential candidate, not the first lady.


Craig Grau, associate professor of political science at UMD, has no idea what a visit from Laura Bush will do for undecided voters and said evidence suggesting first ladies even have an effect on a campaign doesn't exist.

"The theory would be, I suppose, that if you think highly of this person, you might think highly of their spouse," Grau said. "Whether that works is also a question."

Grau does think Laura Bush will counteract her husband's "macho man" image by personifying his campaign and appealing to more compassionate conservatives.

At the rally, Stephanie Monge was also unsure what Laura Bush could do for swing voters. Monge is active with the College Republicans at St. Scholastica and came to the rally just to see Laura Bush in person.

"She and her husband hold similar views, and she's coming to reinforce his values," Monge said. "She seems like a strong woman, very sure of herself."

Polls are suggesting that the gender gap between voters that nearly closed after 9/11 is once again beginning to form as more women are once again identifying with the Democratic party.

"I've looked at some polling data after 9/11, and there was a decrease in the gender gap," Christian said. "The gap has increased in terms of Bush's approval rating since 9/11. Women are starting to move away from men again."

Christian did a number of lectures about women's responses to the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan and found that women are less likely to support defense spending now in comparison to defense spending after 9/11.


"Women for the most part respond to issues by how it is going to affect their family. This is how most women get involved in politics," said Christian. "After 9/11 people felt their families were threatened, women came closer to men, and then as time has gone on with the controversy, the gap started to widen."

Recent Gallup polls have found the gap between male and female approval ratings of Bush is upward of 7 percent. In the 2000 election, Gallup polls report 50 percent of women voting for Democratic candidate Al Gore, as opposed to 37 percent of men, and 58 percent of men voting for President Bush, compared to 42 percent of women.

The official gender gap for the 2004 election is yet to be seen, but Christian said no evidence suggests a link between first ladies and gender gaps.

"For people that lean towards a first lady's particular party, it can excite women, but I've never seen anything discussing first ladies and the gender gap," Christian said. "Most discussion is what kind of role model they are for women, and part of that depends on the first lady and how active and political she is."

Rallygoer and young mother of three Krista Rodriguez was out to listen and enjoy what Laura Bush had to share.

"As opposed to wishy-washy and flamboyancy, her direct, confident and graceful approach will appeal to the hearts of mothers seeking core and Christian family values," Rodriguez said.

Kelly Bagley came to the rally with Rodriguez and expected Laura Bush to discuss the lighter side of the issues with an approachable demeanor.

" I think she's an asset to the campaign," Bagley said. "A woman's voice will connect with women who are more apt to listen to other women."


Gretchen Maus balanced her four-year-old son Max on her shoulders during the "Star-Spangled Banner" and opening prayer.

"She's just a woman of grace who supports her husband," Maus said. "I don't know if she brings anything other than the best of being a woman."

Jan Provost, founder of the Northland Chapter of Grandmothers for Peace, protested outside the rally along with Women in Black and Women Speak for a Sane World.

Provost made it clear the protest was not aimed at Laura Bush but rather at the war.

"We thought maybe if she could see us and think, 'There's grandmothers out there,'" said Provost. "We've lived a long time."

Grandmothers for Peace was started in 1982 in response to nuclear weapons. The Northland Chapter currently has 60 members.

Provost said Laura Bush could be a big influence on votes, but by this point people already have their minds made up.

"People are anxious for it to be over," Provost said.

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