Swing voters and polls, while a far cry from cream-colored ponies and crisp apple streudels, are a few of lazy campaign reporters’ favorite things.

In the past few days, “security moms” have become all the rage with the political press corps, who have promptly elevated these moms to the top of the swing voter heap — all based, we must say, on a smattering of recent (and often conflicting) polls. And the usual crowd of pundits and partisans have popped up to interpret those polls and confuse news consumers everywhere.

Thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen.

Today, the New York Times gives “security moms” A-1 billing, citing its own poll from last week showing Bush edging ahead of Kerry among women voters, and providing punditry from Democrat and Republican pollsters alike. The Times also offers a Webster’s-like definition of “security moms” for its readers: they “tend to be white, married women who have children and who are fearful of another attack within the United States…an outgrowth [sounds like a tumor, doesn’t it?] of ‘soccer moms,’” those hopeless relics who were deemed the crucial swing voters of another election long ago and far away.

“Soccer moms” were pretty down-to-earth and grounded, as we recall, but if one anonymous Democrat that the Times’ Katharine Q. Seelye dredged up can be believed, “security moms” are a little — well, frankly, more than a little — wifty. (Seelye’s source actually opines that Kerry’s failure to fight back when he was attacked by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth led married women to worry “that he would not fight for them and their children.”) How else can one tell a “soccer mom” from a “security mom”? “[S]occer moms tended to live mainly in the suburbs and could vote either way,” Seeyle writes. “Security moms live everywhere and are leaning Republican.”

Security moms do live everywhere, including page A1 of today’s San Francisco Chronicle under the sub-headline, “Soccer Moms Are Now Security Moms.” The Chronicle introduces readers to one Rochelle Bird, 35, “a working mom focused on the future of her 5-year-old daughter, Skylar” who considers herself — Chronicle sub-head and New York Times definitions notwithstanding — both a “soccer mom” and a “security mom.” A September 21 Investor’s Business Daily poll is cited (Kerry leads Bush 44 percent to 40 percent among women), and a GOP consultant and the head of Kerry’s California campaign, among others, offer conflicting ideas of what’s on the minds of these moms and how they can be wooed and won.

CNN, too, has been all over “security moms” of late. On Monday, anchor Bill Hemmer wondered what had become of “soccer moms,” only to be told by his co-anchor, Kelly Wallace, that “they are now viewed as the ‘security moms’ of 2004, and right now they are siding with President Bush.” Also on Monday, Anderson Cooper talked with his guest about “the security moms everyone is now talking about.” Suzanne Malveaux, CNN’s White House correspondent, on September 17 informed viewers that “there are essentially two groups [of women voters]: single women [and] not necessarily the soccer mom, but what they are calling the security mom.” (Who “they” is, Malveaux doesn’t say). But according to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, Malveaux said, “Mr. Bush falls slightly behind Kerry when it comes to this group.” CNN’s Bill Schneider had a different outlook on September 12 and 13, when he held forth on how “soccer moms” “may be becoming” or are “beginning to look more like” “security moms,” and noted that Bush “looks like the kind of father figure that a lot of women say will protect them and their families.”

Cokie Roberts let NPR listeners know on Monday that “in the way that pollsters always identify people like soccer moms or angry white men or NASCAR dads, they’re talking about security moms this year, and it does seem to be appropriate because the gender gap did disappear after September 11th, and then it eventually reappeared. Now it’s gone again.”

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd began her Sunday op-ed on one topic before veering into “security mom” territory. “The so-called security moms, who have replaced soccer moms as a desirable demographic, are now flocking to Bush over Kerry, believing he can better protect their kids from scary terrorists,” Dowd wrote. “How did the president who has caused so much insecurity in the world become the hero of security moms?” she wondered.

Also on Sunday, NPR’s Juan Williams, appearing on Fox News, announced: “Right now, the key in this election is essentially white women. They’re looking for white women. And they’re trying to say to them, are you security moms or are you soccer moms? And for the moment, after the Republican Convention and after the attack in Russia, a lot of women, a lot of American women said, ‘I want my kids safe.’”

The recent examples go on and on — and, in fact, the term “security mom” has been kicked around in the press intermittently all campaign season long, falling in and out of fashion. The Houston Chronicle’s Julie Mason was an early adopter when, back in December, she identified “security moms” as “this year’s hot-button, swing voter demographic,” “a step beyond the soccer moms of earlier election seasons,” and “a threat to Democrats.”

But “security moms are not the whole picture,” Mason wrote all those months ago. “In key battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, women of all stripes are once again expected to be pivotal in choosing the next president.”

Perspective. It is among Campaign Desk’s favorite things.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.