Mitt & the GOP Boys’ Club

Romney needs to reach out to women voters, but his party has few who can help him do it
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  May 10, 2012

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Last week, Barack Obama's re-election campaign launched a Web slide show, "The Life of Julia," depicting a woman helped throughout her years by Obama policies, and warning that — if elected — Mitt Romney would undo all of them.

It was just the latest in what will be a nonstop effort for the next six months, right up to Election Day, to convince women that Obama, and the Democratic Party, are on their side.

Much of the Obama PR blitz will highlight policies — as the Julia story does, and as upcoming votes in Congress will do — on issues of violence against women, funding for services, and health-care coverage, among others.

But there will also be a subtext to all of this: that the Democratic Party is the natural home for women, and the Republican Party is not. A big part of that message will come across implicitly, in the form of prominent Democratic women — and the absence of countervailing women on the other side of the aisle.

Think about it: can you name three prominent Republican women officeholders?

Most people probably cannot. By far the best-known Republican woman in the country is the former half-term governor of Alaska — and Romney probably doesn't want Sarah Palin speaking for him, even if she's willing to.

Women make up just 10 percent of Republicans in Congress — compared with 25 percent of Democrats — and barely more in state legislatures.

Only 20 percent of Americans are personally represented by a female Republican governor, US senator, or US representative, according to Phoenix calculations. Twice as many have female Democrats representing them. The retirement this year of Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison will drop the GOP figure to 12 percent.

Nor will many Republican women be running in local high-profile 2012 elections.

Only three of 33 Senate races this year are likely to have competitive Republican women — incumbents or challengers — compared with at least 11 for Democrats. Republican women had won just four of the 71 GOP congressional primaries held entering this week.

Those few in office are mostly obscure toilers, unknown on the national scene. There are no women in the Senate GOP's leadership team. The highest-ranking Republican woman in the House of Representatives is Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, who ranks fifth as conference vice-chair. Of the 21 House committees, only one is chaired by a woman.

So, when the national conversation turns to women's issues, more often than not the Republican argument is made publicly by a bunch of men.

Worse, behind the scenes, Republican policy and strategy is usually made with little female input or participation.

That's how they ended up convening a congressional hearing on women's health this February with no women on the panel. Or how Senate GOP leadership opposed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act last month, only to see all five female Republican senators cross the aisle to vote in favor of it.

During the Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2009, I pointed out that Hutchison was the only Republican woman officeholder to have appeared on Meet the Press in the first half of that year. [See "Female Trouble," News & Features, June 9, 2009.] In the three years since then, only five such women have been guests on that high-profile Sunday show — by far the most frequent being controversial ultra-conservative Minnesota congresswoman/presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

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