According to a duo of pollsters — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — it's anybody's guess which way the majority of women — who represent the majority of all voters — are leaning, or even which party or candidate will ultimately come up with the best pitch to this part of the electorate.
Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Elizabeth Conway — authors of What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live — offered their thoughts on politics and the female perspective as part of the fourth annual Pennsylvania Governor's Conference for Women.
Some 5,000 people attended the daylong event last week at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Workshops and panels focused on health, finance, philanthropy, community involvement and politics.
During a press conference, Gov. Ed Rendell said that the program offered women the chance to network and develop tools for self-empowerment.
Conway, a GOP pollster, said that while women are more likely than men to back Democrats, they're also more likely to back incumbents, and have done so in higher numbers in seven of the last 10 presidential elections.
But this time they will be no incumbent on the ballot, and so it seems that all bets are off.
She added that age is becoming a less reliable indicator of voting patterns.
"It's stage, not age. Politics in America really needs to catch up to that," said Conway, explaining that a 48-year-old single woman or young mother might have more in common politically with a 28-year-old in a similar situation than, say, with a 48-year-old grandmother.
Conway said that single women also tend to be far less financially stable than married women — earning 56 cents on the dollar to married men — and tend to be more liberal than married women with children.
Lake said that, in many ways, the war in Iraq has been a women's issue, arguing that they opposed it in large numbers before men ever got around to it.
Concerning the vote, perhaps the biggest uncertainty is "the Hillary factor."
Lake and Conway said that while many women are anxious to see a female president, they're not sure they want to back U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), the likely Democratic nominee.
Just the mention of Clinton sparked an immediate reaction from the 200-plus people in the audience. One woman interrupted the speakers and shouted out that she could never vote for Clinton because she stayed with her husband after the Monica Lewinsky scandal came to light.
Another chimed in that Clinton's personal choices had no bearing on her leadership capabilities.
The program essentially halted for several minutes as audience members lobbed pro-and-con Hillary statements across the room.
It Seems Like the Issue's Security, Not Abortion
With women representing a growing percentage of the electorate — they've outnumbered male voters in presidential elections for several decades — national security, and not Social Security or even the abortion issue, could prove key for those voters concerned about protecting their families, according to Scott Feigelstein, director of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
To that end, the RJC hosted its second annual Women's Homeland Security Brunch, held on Veterans Day at the National Liberty Museum in Center City.
The program featured U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking minority member of the committee on homeland security and government affairs.
Collins, a close ally of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), touted a new bill the two have co-sponsored, known as the National Bombing Prevention Act of 2007.
The goal of the measure is to prevent Improvised Explosive Devices — which have been so deadly in Iraq — from being utilized in attacks on U.S. soil.
The two-term senator said that she seeks to boost funding for the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Bombing Prevention, and thereby increase training for threat analysis and help grow the office's Tripwire program, an online network for law-enforcement officials and bomb-squad members.
"The war against Islamic extremism has not been won and will continue for years to come," she said to the audience.
The pro-choice Republican is facing a 2008 challenge from U.S. Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine).
Both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the anti-war group MoveOn.org consider her vulnerable, and so have already been running negative ads in her home state.
Collins said that she needs to raise at least $8 million to remain competitive, the bulk of which would need to come from out-of-state donors.
In fact, picking up some campaign cash was high on Collins' agenda while here in Pennsylvania.
Toward that end, RJC member Judy Davidson hosted a Sunday-night fundraiser for the senator in Chester County.