Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen launched his first solo campaign trip Wednesday with a soft-spoken appeal to working women, seeking to capitalize on polls that show women supporting the Democratic ticket by an overwhelming margin.
"My friends, that's the gender gap, and it wasn't created by accident," Bentsen told a convention of professional women here. "It exists for a reason, and that reason is the commitment to the equal rights amendment, to pay equity for the women of America, to day care. . . . That's our record, and we're proud of it."
Never Mentions Bush
Exhibiting a courtly demeanor that belied the stereotypes of running mates as hatchet men, Bentsen never criticized by name his old Texas rival and the expected Republican presidential nominee, Vice President George Bush, and skipped over strong language in a prepared text that derided the Reagan Administration for being "willing to wink at discrimination."
But he did insert a wry rebuttal to Bush's proposal Sunday before the same audience that working parents be offered tax credits to help them pay for day care.
"It's interesting to me that it has taken eight years to discover day care by some," said the Texas senator, who added later that Republicans had fought him "tooth and toenail" last year when he sought successfully to add $50 million in funding for day care to congressional legislation.
"Polls and the coming election seem to have made a difference," Bentsen said.
With the most recent Gallup Poll showing that American women favor the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, over Bush by a margin of 58% to 34%, Bentsen's emphasis on economic opportunity for women was part of a broader Democratic strategy that seeks to appeal to that group of voters.
A spokesman for the Texas senator, Jack DeVore, noted also that "the umbrella area of economic opportunity" was one in which Bentsen and Dukakis were in "overwhelming agreement," while they have been "forthright" about their other policy differences.
Bentsen told more than 2,000 women attending the annual convention of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs that they were "proof" that progress had been made toward equal opportunity but said "there is still a long way to go."
"My friends," he said in a gravelly drawl, "it is time to pick up the pace and to walk a little faster."
Bentsen voiced his party's traditional support for the ERA and paid special tribute to the concept of pay equity, strongly endorsing legislation introduced by Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) calling for a study of the differences in wages paid to male and female federal employees. Both policy initiatives have been opposed by the Reagan Administration.
"Ask them about equality of opportunity, and the Republicans will say, 'We're for it,' " Bentsen said. "Ask them what they have done to promote equal opportunity, and the silence will be deafening."
Referring to a symbol adopted by the group to call attention to pay inequity--they say that the average woman worker is paid only 67 cents for every dollar paid to a man--Bentsen said: "We know about the red purse, and we know it's awful light."
"At the end of a Dukakis-Bentsen Administration," he pledged, "the purse will be black."
Gets Assist From Wife
At the end of the speech, Bentsen symbolically dropped a dollar bill into a red purse handed to him by convention organizers, then handed the handbag to his wife, B. A., who is traveling with him. On Sunday, a convention official noted, the unaccompanied Bush had to lug his purse offstage by himself.
Later Wednesday, Bentsen headed to San Francisco for a day of campaigning in California today, part of a four-day Southwestern swing he launched after spending two days in Washington attending to Senate business after the Democratic National Convention.
"There'll be none of the lying back quietly and talking strategy until Labor Day," DeVore said. "We're on the march, and good things are happening."