"I definitely think it has an effect" on how women voters view the GOP, says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, of Washington-based Lake Research Partners. Women voters, she says, already have unusually high negative opinions about Romney, and he needs women surrogates to help re-introduce him. "If your only choice is Michele Bachmann, that's a problem," Lake says. Let alone Palin.
JUST THE TICKET
This will not be the first time Romney has faced this conundrum, notes Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh, of Dewey Square Group in Boston. "When Mitt Romney ran against Shannon O'Brien, he had a women problem in the polls," Marsh says of the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign.
His solution then was to draft a woman, then-chair of the Massachusetts GOP Kerry Healey, to join the ticket as his running mate. Some suspect he will do the same to boost his presidential hopes.
But most insiders think that's unlikely. The reason: there simply aren't any women in the party he can realistically turn to.
Of the nine Republican women in the traditional VP positions of governor or US senator, four have been in office less than two years, all in small states where candidates don't get vetted the way they do in bigger markets: Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire; and governors Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Particularly after the Palin fiasco, it would be too risky to choose someone so untested.
Olympia Snowe of Maine, like Hutchison, is over 65 and retiring from office this year. Two more senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are too moderate for Romney to pick without enraging his own base.
That leaves just controversial Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, whose signing of a strong anti-immigrant law makes her toxic to many moderate voters, especially Hispanics, whom Romney must win over.
It is a sign of how badly Romney and the GOP want women surrogates, that several of these unlikely VP options are nevertheless being rumored as possible choices.
In fact, the Romney team seems to be promoting them — campaigning recently with Ayotte and Haley, for example — perhaps to drive that speculation and boost their national image, so they can be more effective surrogates later in the campaign.
Some Republicans argue that Romney is, himself, perfectly capable of convincing women voters that he understands their concerns. In his career in business and as governor, after all, he has shown a willingness to hire and work with some strong women.
But while Romney deserves some credit, the examples are exceptions to the rule, which is that Romney has always surrounded himself at top levels with men.
If anything, Romney has now become more insulated from women advisers.
His 2012 campaign staff, aside from the communications team, has been almost exclusively male. The campaign manager, top strategists, political director, digital director, policy director, operations director, and finance chair are all men. His policy advisers are overwhelmingly male, including all four on his Economic Advisory Team, and all five on his Health Care Policy Advisory Team.
Of course, Romney still has one high-profile, well-respected female surrogate: his wife Ann.
But Lake argues that Ann can only go so far. She can be effective in softening Romney's personal image, she says, but not in convincing women to trust him on policies.