Thomas Fitzgerald: Teeing up for women

Mitt Romney in Tunkhannock, Pa., said he would support opening Augusta National to women. STEVEN SENNE / AP
Mitt Romney in Tunkhannock, Pa., said he would support opening Augusta National to women. STEVEN SENNE / AP (Mitt Romney in Tunkhannock, Pa.,)

Democrats try to exploit big poll advantage, but the race has far to go.

Posted: April 08, 2012

  Mitt Romney does not often take questions from the pack of reporters that trails him from state to state, and his staff is stingy with one-on-one interview opportunities.

Yet as he greeted supporters on the rope line Thursday afternoon at Mountain Energy Services in Tunkhannock, Pa., Romney decided to answer a query shouted over the burble of post-rally noise. Yes, the likely Republican nominee said, women should be admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club, the exclusionary male bastion that hosts the Masters tournament.

"Well, of course," the former Massachusetts governor said. "I'm not a member of Augusta. I don't know if I would qualify - my golf game is not that good - but certainly if I were a member and I could run Augusta, which isn't likely to happen, but of course I'd have women in Augusta. Sure."

Good answer. A little earlier, White House press secretary Jay Carney said in his daily briefing that President Obama, too, thinks the club should admit women.

It's no secret to anyone, least of all Romney's strategists, that he has fallen 19 percentage points among independent women in hypothetical matchups with Obama, according to the latest USA Today/Gallup swing-state poll.

Until three months ago, Romney was ahead of the president in this important demographic slice by 5 percentage points. But then came a run of Republican primaries dominated by voters on the cultural and religious right, and the same set of surveys now shows Romney trailing among female voters who are independents, with 37 percent to Obama's 51. (Among all women, Romney's gender deficit was 18 points.)

Naturally the Democrats have moved to exploit this advantage, accusing the GOP of waging "war" on women, citing, inter alia, the party's support in statehouses around the nation for further restricting access to abortion, and its push to repeal the national health-care law - which requires insurers to cover contraception and health screenings such as mammograms at no added cost.

Democratic national chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, for instance, showed up in Philadelphia's LOVE Park on Thursday to label Romney as "callous and dismissive" of women's concerns. She said he wants to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and overturn Roe v. Wade.

"Women aren't interested in being pawns as he panders his way to the GOP nomination," said Wasserman Schultz, joined by Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.)

And on Good Friday, Obama hosted a "White House Forum on Women and the Economy," where he was able to ding the GOP for its supposed war and tout the administration's fight on behalf of equal pay for women. He talked about his single mom, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his two daughters.

"As a father, one of my highlights of every day is asking my daughters about their day, their hopes, and their futures," Obama said. "That's what drives me."

The day before, GOP chairman Reince Priebus brushed off Democrats' talk of a war on women, saying it was as absurd as suggesting Republicans were waging "war on caterpillars."

Oops. That led the Obama campaign to claim Priebus had equated women to something as insignificant and creepy-crawly as a caterpillar.

Baloney. It was a clunky analogy, but politics seems dominated these days by fake outrage over supposed gaffes that are merely ploys to rile up the base and raise the bucks.

Voters are generally smart enough to sort through the bleatings of political operatives.

Fact is, it is way too early to draw conclusions from a few polls seven months before the election about whether Romney or the Republican Party in general has a problem with women.

Experience suggests Romney's standing will recover some once the fires of the GOP primaries are banked; his image has taken a beating, analysts say, from the battle and the passionate rhetoric of culture warrior Rick Santorum, his chief remaining rival.

"In reality, presidential election outcomes can almost never be attributed to a shift in a single demographic group," Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, wrote Friday in blog post for the Columbia Journalism Review. "While forecasting models are hardly perfect, they have persuasively shown that presidential elections are shaped by fundamental factors like incumbency and the economy, which tend to move demographic groups roughly in parallel."

Besides, women are more than half the population, not a narrow, monolithic interest group. Millions of them are even conservative. In all likelihood, the election will turn on which side can convince the nation it is best suited to handle the economy - for both men and women.


Contact Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com or on Twitter @tomfitzgerald. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/bigtent.

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