Young Guns to bring ‘women’s pavilion’ to Republican National Convention in Tampa
By Felicia Sonmez,
This story has been updated.
Women aren’t just being wooed by the presidential candidates this election – they’re also being courted at this summer’s national party conventions.
Tampa, Fla., host to the 2012 Republican National Convention. (Joseph Victor Stefanchick for The Washington Post)
The issue-advocacy group YG Network is hosting a “women’s pavilion” at this month’s GOP convention in Tampa as part of its “Woman Up!” initiative launched earlier this year.
The group is headed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s former aides John Murray and Brad Dayspring, who also head the Young Guns super PAC aimed at boosting Republicans in congressional races this fall.
The goal of the pavilion, according to YG Network policy director Mary Anne Carter, is “to raise awareness of conservative policies to women by women.”
“I think one of the key things here is we need to continue to communicate why conservative policies are best for the country, and women are a target audience for that,” Carter, who is also executive director of the “Woman Up!” effort, said in an interview this week. “So this is a great opportunity for us to address a large group of women in a national setting.”
The pavilion will be located one block away from the convention venue, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and will play host to panel discussions and presentations mainly from female speakers to be announced over the next two weeks.
Among the panels will be one on the euro crisis, at which six members of the European parliament are expected to speak, and another on health care policy, featuring Grace-Marie Turner, president of a nonprofit promoting free-market ideas for health care reform.
The venue will also have a retail area, a media area for press conferences, a cafe and a health and wellness center. And in commemoration of the 92nd anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote, which takes place on the eve of the convention, the pavilion will host a women’s suffrage museum.
The initiative comes as the battle for the women’s vote has once again moved front-and-center in the campaign.
In a new campaign ad and at a Colorado event this week, President Obama made a targeted appeal to women, arguing that Republicans would take women’s health “back to the 1950s.”
The Colorado event featured Georgetown University Law Center student Sandra Fluke, who earlier this year became a national figure after she was called a “slut” by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh for her backing of the health care law’s contraception mandate.
Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has countered with an ad accusing the Obama administration of waging a “war on religion.” National Republicans also have tapped several prominent Republican women to speak at the Aug. 27-30 convention, including former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
The approach taken by the YG Network’s “Woman Up!” initiative appears to mirror that taken by Romney on the campaign trail – a focus on how Obama’s economic policies have affected women rather than on hot-button social issues such as contraception and Planned Parenthood funding.
Asked about the Obama campaign’s revival of the “war on women” theme, Carter decried the Democratic attacks as “a fake, media-driven war on women” to which Republicans should respond with a substantive message of their own on issues ranging from health care to workplace laws.
“I don’t think anyone has a war on women anywhere, in this country at least,” she said. “But nonetheless, that message coming from the left must be countered. And it seems to me one of the best ways for conservatives to counter it is ... to provide a positive agenda and positive policies that will in turn help women.”
Whether that message will resonate with voters remains an open question. Public polling suggests that the Obama campaign’s messaging this year when it comes to the women’s vote has paid political dividends.
In April, when the debate over the contraception mandate and other issues related to women was at its peak, Obama held a 19-percentage-point advantage over Romney among women.
More broadly, Democrats have won the women’s vote in every presidential election since 1992 and this year look on track to do the same. The question, then, will likely be by how wide a margin Obama wins women.
Might a female vice-presidential nominee help Romney to narrow the gap? Carter said that the decision is ultimately up to the presumptive GOP nominee.
She added: “No matter who the vice-presidential candidate is, I think we all agree that they should talk to women in a way that resonates.”
An earlier version of this story inaccurately described the relationship of YG Network to the Young Guns super PAC. The story has been corrected.