Right now, Mitt Romney has a problem with women voters.
Sixty percent of women younger than 50 in battleground states support President Obama, and a mere 30 percent support Romney, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. In a CNN/ORC poll, 60 percent of women support or are leaning toward Obama, and 37 percent support or are leaning toward Romney.
New Hampshire Republican senator Kelly Ayotte, who endorsed Romney and campaigned with him before the Granite State’s GOP primary, stresses in an interview that Romney’s message will ultimately prove appealing to women.
The issues that matter most to women voters are also the issues that play to Romney’s strength, Ayotte notes. Above all, she says, women are concerned about the unemployment rate: They want to make sure they and their families have good jobs. Like everyone else, women want a strong economy. The other top two issues Ayotte lists for women: gas prices and the debt.
“These economic issues are very important” to women, Ayotte maintains, since it impacts their families’ quality of life. “They’re dealing with their family budgets, and they know the bottom line.”
Ayotte pushes back against the Democratic notion that the GOP is waging a “war on women,” as supposedly evident in the party’s position on various issues, such as opposition to the requirement that employers at religious institutions provide insurance coverage for birth control, including sterilization and abortion-inducing pills.
“They make a mistake when they think women are a monolithic group,” Ayotte says. “Women have diverse opinions on these issues.” She points to a USA Today/Gallup poll of battleground states in which women ranked government policies on birth control as the sixth most important issue to them this election, behind health care, gas prices, unemployment, the national debt/deficit, and international affairs. Democrats want to push the “war on women” storyline because they think it will work well for them, Ayotte says. “But at the end of the day, women have very different opinions, and they’re going to vote on a broad array of issues.”
Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway agrees that Democrats’ strong push on their liberal social policies could backfire. “It presupposes that women care, discuss, and vote only according to those issues,” she says, referring to contraception and abortion. That premise, she adds, “insults women.”
Conway also notes that even though Obama attracted 56 percent of women voters in 2008, his popularity didn’t help Democrats in 2010. “Two short years later, more women voted Republican than Democrat at the congressional level,” she says. “Why was that? Was it because women were howling about birth control and abortion? No, they tossed out a female speaker of the house who seemed obsessed with those topics. Rather, women were talking about deficit and spending reduction, and keeping taxes lower.” Winning candidates in 2010 exposed the true expense and expanse of all the spending, Conway observes. They showed the folly of the bailouts and the stimulus, and of the crown jewel to top it all: Obamacare.
The Republican nominee, she believes, should stress macroeconomics and kitchen-table economics. He should speak about financial security and making everyday life more affordable. “The average woman is worried whether she can pay for food and fuel. The average Democrat feminist is screaming that someone else should pay for her birth control and abortions.”
Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is working to bridge the gap. It recently announced the debut of two new groups, Wisconsin Women for Mitt and Maryland Women for Mitt. And Ann Romney is making the case for her husband’s candidacy directly to women voters. “Ann is a great resource for us,” a Romney aide says. “She has hosted tele–town halls with women voters and live events.”
Ayotte is effusive in her praise of Ann Romney, calling her “terrific” and someone who “relates really well to people.” Romney’s family, including his daughters-in-law, could boost him with women voters, Ayotte suggests. “He comes from a very strong family, and I think that women appreciate that,” she says. “And then he’s very devoted to his family, and that’s a real strength for him.”
Romney himself seems to be targeting women voters more directly these days — and making the case that it’s the economy that women voters care about most.
“I’ve had the fun of being out with my wife for the last several days on the campaign trail, and she points out that as she talks to women, they tell her that their number-one concern is the economy,” he said in a Fox News interview earlier this week.
“Women are really struggling in this economy,” Romney added. “And I believe that the way we’re going to get women voters in our side of the column is by talking about how we’re going to get this economy going again.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.