To get to the White House, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will need to win over women voters.
To get to the White House, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will need to win over women voters. Steven Senne/AP
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will spend the next seven months convincing us to send him to the White House. To get there, he'll have to make a strong case to one very important voting bloc: women.
A poll out this week by ABC and the Washington Post shows President Obama with a 19-point lead over Romney with women voters. For Romney to win, he's got to make a significant dent in that margin.
In 2008, there were 10 million more women voters than men. Those voters backed President Obama over Republican John McCain by a 13-point margin. So this election season, what does the GOP need to do in order to win back women voters?
A Perception Problem
This week, NPR asked women in Jackson, Miss., — older women, younger women, single and married — about who they plan to vote for in November and which party best represents the interests of women.
"Probably the Democrats," says Debbie Rankin, a Republican who's supporting Mitt Romney. "They're much more liberal, and it is what it is."
Independent Holly Smith, who is backing Barack Obama, says she doesn't really like the way the Republican Party is handling women's issues.
"With the personhood stuff and abortions back on the table ... I feel like we're past that," Smith says. "I feel like they're focusing on the wrong things and it's really turning me off."
That Republican perception problem is something many GOP leaders are trying to fight. Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Republican and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that she is very concerned, and that there are things more important than contraception issues this election.
"[It] has no place in the 2012 presidential debate when we are ... trillions in debt," Lummis says. "To make issues like contraception dominate news and people's attention really detracts from the real issues in this campaign, and I think really do hurt Republican candidates."
The focus for Mitt Romney, Lummis says, should be on debt, the deficit, jobs and the economy. She says he especially needs to target independent women in swing states, where President Obama's campaign is also focusing attention.
Winning 'Wal-Mart Women'
Ever since the 1992 presidential election, more women have voted for the Democrat than the Republican presidential candidate. GOP strategists believe the key to winning is to narrow the gap.
According to Republican strategist Linda DiVall, the group that could most help Mitt Romney is one she calls "Wal-Mart women." This would be women with a high school diploma and a household income under $50,000.
DiVall's research has shown that these women are most likely to focus on jobs and gas prices. She tells NPR's Raz that they have probably made some significant sacrifices over the past few years, shop at bargain stores, clip coupons and do whatever they can to stay afloat and take care of their families.
"I do believe that Gov. Romney can be competitive with that group and has a very strong opportunity to appeal to them," DiVall says. "The question for them is: Do you want to continue along this path, or do you think you can do better by making a change for president?"
Though the Republican Party believes in a limited role for government, she says the position many male Republican politicians take on contraception issues and abortion runs counter to that, and could create a problem for them this election season.
"They appear to want to dictate what a woman should do with her life," she says. "I think the Republicans ... [have] probably received a rather significant wake-up call to be a little bit more careful with their words. Again, the overwhelming focus is on the economy and getting America moving back in the right direction."
Improving The Message For Black Women
At both party conventions this summer, expect to see a lot of women front and center. This includes Florida's Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the first African-American elected to statewide office there.
So why are black women like Carroll still so rare in the Republican Party? Carroll isn't sure. If you talk to African-American families, she says, they tend to think conservatively.
"From religious values and moral compass and economics and education, they fall right in line with conservative principals," she says. Those issues can get lost on the political stage, however.
"I think we get so much into the partisanship and the divide and the demonizing of character ... that we go away from really understanding the policies and the issues and we go off course, which is unfortunate," Carroll tells NPR's Raz.
In order to do better among black women voters, Carroll says Republicans need to improve their message and tell them how GOP policies have benefited women and created more opportunities for equality.