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Overwhelming support from women gives President Clinton strong leads over Sen. Bob Dole in Missouri and Illinois, according to the latest St. Louis Post-Dispatch/KMOX poll.

Clinton outpolled Dole, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, 46 percent to 32 percent in Missouri. In Illinois, the president held a commanding two-to-one lead, with 56 percent, against 28 percent for Senate GOP leader Dole. Ross Perot got 1 percent in each state.Women get the credit for much of Clinton's lead.

"It's a gender canyon," said Jim Davis, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He said Dole will find it difficult to bridge such a large gap.

In Missouri, men were almost evenly split between Clinton and Dole. Among women, 49 percent favored Clinton, compared to 28 percent who supported the Kansas lawmaker. The rest were undecided or declined to say.

In Illinois, Clinton led Dole among men, 52 percent to 35 percent. The president's support among women was more striking - 59 percent were solidly behind the president, while only 23 percent backed Dole.

The poll queried 400 people in each state May 1-11. It was conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia's Center for Advanced Social Research. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent.

The center said analysis shows women polled who backed Clinton were more concerned about job layoffs and the environment than the women who supported Dole. Dole backers tended to be more concerned about the federal budget and abortion.

There is some overlap: Women in both camps cited Social Security and Medicare as among their top issues.

Other recent national polls show a similar gender gap of women for Clinton, though not as dramatic as in the two-state area.

Ken Warren, a pollster and political science professor at St. Louis University, said that Democratic presidential candidates have had an edge for decades among women voters, generally capturing 8 percent to 15 percent more women voters than Republican contenders.

Republicans can take heart - a little. In Missouri, 35 percent of those polled said they wanted the GOP to keep control of Congress, compared to only 27 percent who would vote for the Democrats to take over. Another 29 percent said they didn't think it made any difference which party runs Capitol Hill.

In Illinois, 36 percent of those polled wanted the Democrats to retake control of Congress, while 30 percent said it doesn't matter. The GOP-controlled Congress got the support of 24 percent.

Analysts say those numbers reflect the public's general cynicism about Congress and Washington.

"The way to prevent government from doing any harm is to paralyze it," said Davis.

Center director Esther Thorson agreed that Clinton's favored status among women accounts for much of his support. However, education and income also play a part, she said.

In both states, Clinton's support is particularly high among men and women with a high-school education or less. In some cases, the ratios were 2-1 or more in favor of Clinton. He also captured a solid majority of those polled who earn $25,000 a year or less. He is favored in every income level in Illinois. In Missouri, Dole and Clinton split the vote of those earning more than $25,000 a year.

Davis said that Clinton's strong female support appears to give him a virtual lock on re-election, barring some earth-shattering event to change women's minds.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)