Did Ann Romney Win Hearts, And Votes?

The Beauty Shop ladies take a look at what women voters want in this year's elections. Host Michel Martin checks in with Keli Goff, political correspondent for The Root, Texas Republican delegate to the GOP convention Lisa Roper, and Janice Crouse of Concerned Women For America.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program, we'll meet the American man who recently won a gold medal in an event that's been called the Olympics of ballet. We'll hear about his rather unlikely rise in a few minutes.

But first, it's time for the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on the week's news with a panel of women writers, journalists and commentators. Sitting in the chairs for a cut this week are Janice Crouse. She is a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute. That's the research arm, the think tank, if you will, for the conservative public policy group, Concerned Women for America. She's here with me in our Washington, D.C. studio. We are the left behind. Janice, thanks for coming, once again.

JANICE CROUSE: My pleasure.

MARTIN: This week, joining us from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, we have Keli Goff, political correspondent for TheRoot.com. And Lisa Roper, a Republican delegate from Texas and a regional director for the National Federation of Republican Women. Welcome to you, ladies. Thank you for joining us from Tampa.

KELI GOFF: Thank you.

LISA ROPER: Great to be here.

MARTIN: Well, Mitt Romney, of course, officially clinched the Republican nomination yesterday in New Jersey. Governor Chris Christie gave the keynote, but I think I can say this, that I think Ann Romney stole the show, and I think we pretty much agree with that on a primetime speaking slot. Let me just play a short clip for those who may have missed it.

ANN ROMNEY: I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a storybook marriage. Well, let me tell you something. In the storybooks I read, there never were long, long rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once and those storybooks never seem to have chapters called MS or breast cancer. A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: You know, Janice Crouse, the spouse at these conventions is often described as the character witness. I do think it's fair to say that Mitt Romney needs one or at least he needs some Facebook friends. National polls show he has the lowest personal favorability ratings of any presidential nominee in 25 years, and I wonder if you think she helped him with that.

CROUSE: Oh, she definitely did. It was amazing to me to see how beautiful she looked, you know, number one. The red dress stood out so dramatically, but one of the first things I think voters look at is trust. Do you trust this person? And I think there has been some distrust of Mitt Romney. Ann Romney, I think, erased a lot of that last night. Her whole message seemed to be, this is a competent man. This is a man who's successful and that's a good thing. It's not a bad thing. He's an authentic person and he won't fail.

I think that was really a big, big point last night because, while they didn't mention President Obama or his record - either she nor Chris Christie mentioned that - but I think it came through loud and clear that this is a country that is in failure right now and we need an answer. We need good ideas and this is a man who will bring good ideas and this is a man, as she said, will not fail.

MARTIN: Lisa Roper, you were there when she was speaking. What was it like in the hall there? What was the atmosphere there?

ROPER: It was amazing. She - you could just see the looks on the women in the audience and I work with women across this nation and to see how much they admired and respected her speech and Ann Romney herself and her motherhood, her family. Her family was there and they were beautiful. Everybody was - it was an amazing - it was very well received and we were just really honored to be there.

MARTIN: Anything in particular stood out for you, Lisa?

ROPER: I really - you know, she is - I've really studied the Romneys. You know, I'm watching them and I'm seeing that this is going to be - we had the Kennedys, we had the Bushes and now we've got the Romneys. And this woman is the backbone of that family and her love for her family really is to be so respected and I appreciate that of her.

MARTIN: Keli Goff, as we talked about earlier - my conversation with Representative Marsha Blackburn - the gender gap is alive and well. Many polls show that - Mitt Romney leading among men. Obama is leading by double digits among women and women tend to outvote men. Do they not? So the question I would have for you is do you think that there is something that Ann Romney did that compensates for that or cuts into that edge among women?

GOFF: Well, let me say this. I think that there's a Romney that could help close the gender gap on this ticket, but unfortunately for the Romney campaign, it's the one who's not actually on the ticket and that would be Ann Romney. I think that, if she were actually, you know, on the ticket, a lot of the warmth that was on display last night - let's face it. We don't like to admit this, but there's a reason that the beer test - as in, who do you want to have a beer with - has been the most accurate predictor of who wins the presidency for the last two decades. I mean, that doesn't necessarily reflect well on our populous, but that's the fact.

So likeability...

MARTIN: So you think there's been no evidence that the spouse really factors in as much as people like the spouse? I mean, I remember that, you know, Kitty Dukakis was actually quite popular on the campaign trail and there was no evidence that she helped her husband, the other Massachusetts governor who ran for president recently.

GOFF: Exactly, Michel. And you're speaking exactly to the point that I was about to make, which is that Michelle Obama is the most popular political figure - American political figure - on the planet. She is more popular than anyone in any party, including her husband, and that's been pretty much the data for the last year or so.

But, in terms of whether or not that actually helps boost President Obama - what all of the polls have shown, in terms of Gallup and others on his likeability, is that people say they like their family as a package, but separately, they also like him. So, even if Michelle Obama were jump-roping and being just as fabulous in gardening as she is, if he didn't have his own likeability to stand on in terms of the data, then the Obama administration would, frankly, be in a lot more trouble than it should be with the economic numbers that we have, but people like him.

The same cannot be said in terms of the numbers of Governor Romney. So as fabulous as Ann Romney is, that doesn't necessarily really help in terms of their ticket unless he really knocks it out of the park and shows some relate-ability on that same stage when he gives his speech. So far, he hasn't been able to do that.

MARTIN: Let's talk more broadly, Janice Crouse, about the party and the party's outreach to women. I mean, what's been in the news recently are, you know, comments made by Republican, you know, male candidates that many women - even as you heard, you know, Marsha Blackburn found ridiculous and insensitive pertaining to issues around rape and reproductive issues and so forth.

The party really made an effort to showcase women leaders, like Governor Nikki Haley, South Carolina.

CROUSE: Right.

MARTIN: Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Do you think that showcasing those leaders makes a difference, particularly given - I have to point out - you know, a lot of the demographic trends that we're talking about in this country, there has been a demonstrable rise in the number of single female-headed households. OK. And, as we know, I think, from the research - this is something we've talked about on the program - the fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education, but no four year degree, which is also a group that tends to divide. They tend to be independents. They tend to divide between the Republican and Democratic Parties. In some cases, they are swing voters.

So I have to ask you, do you think that the Party's making an effective outreach here?

CROUSE: Well, they really are trying. And it was fascinating to me because, you know, one of my things is really analyzing speeches very closely and it was really interesting last night to see Ann Romney go for every single demographic. She touched all the bases last night; single moms, stay-at-home moms, working moms, the moms who are trying to find the money to buy the uniforms for their kids to participate in sports. She hit all the bases and I think it was a speech tailor made to appeal to women and to get women out for the vote.

It's fascinating to me that more married women vote than single women and yet both parties seem to be really targeting the single women vote this year. I think the Democrats are making a mistake to focus so strongly and almost exclusively on abortion because all the studies show that women are primarily interested in the economy right now. They're very, very interested in where the country is going for their children and their grandchildren.

MARTIN: OK. But...

CROUSE: And she touched that base, too.

MARTIN: But I want to ask Lisa Roper about this. But then, remember, Rick Santorum also spoke last night at the convention. He was a presidential candidate himself, a former senator from Pennsylvania for whom, you know, family issues were front and center in his campaign. He talked about how marriage is disappearing, where government dependency is the highest. He talked a lot about that. I don't know. I actually think we have that clip. Shall we play it in case people missed it? Here it is.

RICK SANTORUM: Marriage is disappearing in places where government dependency is the highest. Most single mothers do heroic work and an amazing job raising their children.

(APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: But, if America is going to succeed, we must stop the assault on marriage and the family in America today.

MARTIN: Lisa, I have to ask you. How did that go over? I mean, you see on - you know, on the one hand, the party is lifting up Ann Romney, who is a stay-at-home mom. On the other hand, criticizing - you know, claiming falsely in one advertisement, for example, that the Obama administration has cancelled work rules, but sort of arguing that - well, if you're a poor woman, you can't stay home, but if you're Ann Romney, you're to be celebrated for staying at home. I mean, I just wondered, did you feel that that message was discordant when it comes to the party's sort of stance on how it will support fragile families?

ROPER: You know, we have 75,000 women across this nation today that are part of the National Federation of Republican Women and I have had the opportunity to really ask them about these issues, those issues you just mentioned. And there is such - I'm trying to think. Have you been to the grocery store lately?

MARTIN: Only every day.

ROPER: Who pays $7 for milk?

MARTIN: Only every day, Lisa. I have twins.

ROPER: Who can possibly fill up your gas tank for $4 a gallon? We are in trouble. These women - they cannot afford groceries. They - it is the middle-class women who have children, who don't have children, who have - I have five dogs. Have you seen how much it costs to feed a dog? You have to understand that we're going to get to a point in the next couple of months where it's not going to be about abortion. It's going to be about - how are these women going to feed their children and their families?

MARTIN: I hear you. OK. Keli Goff, do you want to weigh in on this?

GOFF: Sure. I mean, I actually think that Janice - they're both actually onto something. I do think that there is a bit of wasted political capital with the progressives focusing too heavily on the issue of abortion, but - because that remains a divisive issue. Regardless of how the left, you know, reads those numbers, the country's still pretty much split down the middle on that one.

But one issue on which there is no split is the issue of contraception, family planning and birth control, even among Catholic women. Nearly 100 percent of them who've been sexually active have used it and there is a direct correlation between birth control use and things like poverty, when you look at the data, right, where women who tend to be college educated and who have fewer children tend to do better economically.

And so that's a connection that I think has not, messaging-wise, been hit on as effectively. I think those are the issues where you see a sense of extremism from female voters when they look at people like Paul Ryan, who fought very hard against the contraception accessibility in health care reform. You look at people like Governor Santorum - excuse me - former Senator Santorum, who actually said he did believe that states should have the right to outlaw birth control if they so choose. He didn't say that's what he was going to, you know, actively try to get done, but he did believe they have those rights.

Those are the types of issues I really think that do make a difference, particularly the single women who are struggling financially because you know what? One child versus three children can make the difference for single mothers between a life of pursuing the American dream and the life of giving up on the American dream.

MARTIN: Before we let go - and you're listening to our Barber Shop roundtable - sorry - our Beauty Shop roundtable with Keli Goff, political correspondent for TheRoot.com. She's in Tampa for the Republican National Convention. Also joining us from there, Lisa Roper of the National Federation of Republican Women. She's a Texas delegate who, once again, takes the prize for the spiffiest outfits on the floor, the spiffiest delegation uniform on the floor. It's such an unfair competition. And Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America.

But we talked a lot about gender. In the couple of minutes that we have left, I just - I do want to talk about kind of the explosive issue of race, which seems to have really come to the floor again. Keli Goff, a poll last week showed that - zero support for Mitt Romney from African-American voters. Zero percent. I mean, clearly, there are African-Americans who are supporting Mitt Romney.

GOFF: Right.

MARTIN: A number of them are there at the convention.

GOFF: Exactly.

MARTIN: But then there have been these kind of ugly little things, like for example, there was a - two convention attendees apparently threw nuts at a camera operator from CNN saying, this is how we feed the animals. And the convention folks removed - confirmed that this occurred and removed these people from the hall, but you know, you just - are you surprised? The kind of racist - sort of surfaced again in...

GOFF: Well, this was...

MARTIN: I thought that we were supposed to be post-racial.

GOFF: Yeah. Thanks to whoever came up with that term that we now can't get rid of - look, you know, for your listeners who don't know, I am African-American and I will say that every time that, you know, we think that we've kind of moved forward, we take a few steps back. And I don't just need the anecdotes that you mentioned. I can speak from personal experience in the last week and I just had this conversation with a friend of mine who works on the Romney campaign who was shocked by this, which is that I wrote a piece about Paul Ryan and whether or not the revelation that he had - you know, a black ex-girlfriend mattered.

I was not critical of him for having a black girlfriend. I actually think it makes him interesting and yet I received more vitriolic racist hate mail and comments, even on my Facebook page, than I have throughout my entire career. And so I think the problem becomes, for conservatives, that they want - they get really upset and they say, you know, why do people play the race card? Why do people try to, you know, broadly paint our party this way? And it's because you have a few idiots who help paint the party that way with behavior like this and it makes it really hard for people to be more trusting of a party that I do think there are good people who are trying to move the party forward. But then you have a bunch of numbskulls who really set the party back with incidents like what I experienced and what happened on the floor.

MARTIN: Janice Crouse, I'm just going to give you the final word on this. What are your thoughts about this? I have to tell you that just - I don't know what it is about conventions that brings out this kind of behavior. I mean, I can give you some chapter and verse about people storming through the press area, for example, when I was covering one of the conventions in Houston, screaming, you know, stop the lies. Tell the truth. And we were like, what? What is that about? Maybe it's the alcohol. I don't know.

But, Janice, what's your take on this before we let you go?

CROUSE: I'm very impressed with the blacks who are in the Republican Party and many of them were highlighted last night and even more will be. And I've seen some terrific advertisements that show the women and blacks who are part of the Republican Party. I think that's the future of the party and the crazies who do those stupid things - you know, both parties have them and it's very unfortunate because they get too much publicity, in my point of view.

I think the really outstanding people, like Condoleezza Rice and the man who spoke last night...

MARTIN: Artur Davis, the former...

CROUSE: Yes.

MARTIN: ...congressman, former Democratic congressman from Alabama.

CROUSE: Very articulate, very bright.

MARTIN: Mia Love, for example, running...

CROUSE: Right.

MARTIN: ...for Congress from Utah. She'll be the first African-American woman Republican serving in the Congress, if elected. Currently a mayor.

CROUSE: Standing ovations for them. The majority of the party, I think, is racially blind. It's irrelevant. It's the character of the person...

GOFF: Michel?

CROUSE: ...as Martin Luther King said.

MARTIN: Who is that? Keli?

GOFF: I'm sorry. It's Keli. Can I just jump in and say one thing really briefly...

MARTIN: Very briefly.

GOFF: ...on what Janice said - is I think a lot - they show polls that say a lot of white Americans want us to become a colorblind society. A lot of black Americans want us to become color accepted. I don't need people not to see my race. I just need them not to not give me a job because of it and I think that's just a difference in perspective and it's something that progressive...

CROUSE: It's an important difference.

MARTIN: Janice. I'm going to give Janice the final word here. Do you think that's true, Janice? Do you think that...

CROUSE: That's a very important difference.

MARTIN: ...Keli's perspective is true?

CROUSE: Yes, I do.

MARTIN: Janice Crouse is a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute. That's a think tank for the conservative public policy group, Concerned Women for America. She was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios once again.

Keli Goff is a political correspondent for TheRoot.com. She was with us from Tampa, along with Lisa Roper, Republican delegate from Texas and regional director for the National Federation of Republican Women.

Thank you all so much.

ROPER: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Up next, as a kid, Brooklyn Mack was all about sports and then he happened upon an unusual way to build up his skills, studying ballet.

BROOKLYN MACK: I saw these guys and I was like, well, if they're doing that in ballet, then if I take this, I'll be unstoppable in football.

MARTIN: And he got a gold medal for his efforts in ballet. He recently became the first African-American man to win gold in the so-called Olympics of ballet. He'll share his remarkable story in a few minutes on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The focus at the Republican National Convention is on the top of the ticket, but there's business being done all the way to the local level. Mesa, Arizona Mayor Scott Smith is leading a delegation of mayors to the RNC. We'll ask him about the big issues for his city, his state and beyond.

SCOTT SMITH: Wait, there's an immigration issue in Arizona? I hadn't noticed.

MARTIN: More from the Republican National Convention next time on TELL ME MORE.

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