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Posted at 08:25 AM ET, 05/31/2012

Mitt Romney and GOP women: He had them at ‘economy’

He doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. He looks so presidential. What we really care about is the
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney at a campaign stop in Chantilly. (Jae C. Hong - AP)
economy. And wouldn’t Ann Romney make a fine first lady?

That’s a sample of the feedback I’ve gotten from talking with the women for Mitt Romney at campaign stops, while in the background the Republican candidate extols a message of business expertise and the persona of a warrior, willing and able to fight President Obama in “a battle for the soul of America.”

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Romney’s support building among GOP women, with 80 percent now having favorable views of the former Massachusetts governor, up from 59 percent last month.

What “war on women”?

In hopes of building on the gender gap that traditionally favors their party among the group that out-votes men, Democrats have been pointing out the differences between Romney and Obama on issues that affect women and their families -- from abortion rights to contraceptive coverage to pay equity legislation.

On Wednesday, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the latest salvo, a statement asking where Romney stands on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act, a move supported by the president. In it, she said: “Women should have the ability to take their bosses to court to get the same pay for the same work as their male co-workers, and anyone who wants to be president shouldn’t hesitate on that question.”

Romney is staying out of it, and with those rising poll numbers among his base, why not? My non-scientific observations at Romney rallies confirm the poll’s findings that he’s not making inroads among Democrats and non-white voters, who generally stay away from the man and his message.

It would be too simple to say Republican women don’t care about health care or equal pay. Rather, it’s a matter of style and substance. To a supporter in South Carolina, Romney is the picture of president of the United States, ready for Mount Rushmore, with handsome sons to match. Obama, the epitome of cool competence for his supporters, is not her cup of tea.

The president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Republican Women called the Democratic emphasis on women’s issues a “diversion,” and told me it’s the economy that women care about. Why should gender trump the business policies and Bain success at the center of the Romney candidacy they believe in?

Besides, said women at a Romney rally in Charlotte, hard-earned women’s rights and freedoms would survive intact. In this view, Romney’s only making nice with the most conservative elements in the
Ann Romney with an audience of women supporters during a campaign event at Exhibit Edge, a woman-owned company that makes graphic and trade show displays in Chantilly, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla - GETTY IMAGES)
GOP for as long as it takes him to win in November.

It’s an attitude that looks beyond campaign rhetoric to what these women surmise would be a President Romney’s more practical governing policy. That cynical view allows candidate Romney to get away with uncomfortable silence, even when Rush Limbaugh unleashes disrespectful attacks on women.

Will Romney be able to stand up to the most conservative voices in his party when he can’t bring himself to give that other women’s champion, Donald Trump, and his birther fantasies the brush-off?

That’s a chance the GOP women I talked with were willing to take because – as has been the case in modern American politics -- every piece of the Republican coalition is so much better than Democrats at following the leader once the leader has been chosen. For them, when Ann Romney says, “It’s Mitt’s time ... it’s our turn now,” that sounds just about right.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3

By  |  08:25 AM ET, 05/31/2012

Tags:  mitt romney, barack obama, republicans, democrats, women, war on women, ann romney, economy

 
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