GOP Uses Convention To Reach Out To Female Voters

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This week's Republican National Convention has been designed to appeal to female voters, not just loyal Republicans but also independents. The effort is driven by the big deficit GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has among women in polls with President Obama.


OK. So the president is focused on young voters. At the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney and his supporters were focused on women. Their effort is driven by the big deficit that Romney has had among women in poll matchups with the president. And that's why the GOP convention featured one high-profile female speaker after another. Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: When Mitt Romney's wife Ann took the stage at the RNC on Tuesday, her job was to help Americans get to know the Mitt Romney she knows, the man she fell in love with as a teenage girl in suburban Detroit. But with this one line - one that was not on her prepared script - she also made it clear who her audience was.


ANN ROMNEY: I love you women.


GONYEA: She was responding to those big cheers from women on the convention floor. But her speech was designed to speak to a wider world of suburban women - women juggling work and family, the kind of voters who are so critical in battleground states and who helped give President Obama victory four years ago.


ROMNEY: It's the moms who've always had to work a little harder to make everything right. It's the moms of this nation - single, married, widowed - who really hold this country together.

GONYEA: As for the rest of the convention lineup, it seemed just about every female high profile Republican office holder in the country got their turn on the stage - U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.


GOVERNOR SUSANA MARTINEZ: As the first Hispanic female governor in history, little girls, they often come up to me in the grocery store or in the mall. They look and they point, and when they get the courage to come up, they ask, are you Susana? And they run up and they give me a hug.

GONYEA: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also spoke, as did one of party's potential rising stars, a conservative African-American Mormon congressional candidate from Utah named Mia Love.


MIA LOVE: President Obama's version of America is a divided one - often pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender, and social status. His policies have failed us. We're not better off than we were four years ago, and no rhetoric, bumper sticker, or Hollywood campaign ad can change that.

GONYEA: There were other events outside the convention hall with the same purpose. At one, longtime "Entertainment Tonight" anchor Mary Hart spoke. She noted that Democrats often talk about a Republican war on women.


MARY HART: So you know what we Republican women have to say to that? We say the only ones who have declared war on women are those who would deny us the right to be independent thinkers.

GONYEA: Not highlighted in these convention speeches was the GOP platform that would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape or incest, nor did the speakers mention controversial remarks made by the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat in Missouri, Congressman Todd Akin who drew criticism last week from Mitt Romney and from a long list Republicans when he said women rarely get pregnant when they are victims of, quote, "legitimate rape."

Democrats countered the GOP outreach to women in Tampa with their own event a few blocks away from the convention center.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz described the GOP effort this way.

REPRESENTATIVE DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I think we believe that women can see through that nice shiny packaging that the Republicans are putting out there through to what's inside.

GONYEA: She cited GOP efforts to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. She noted that vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan opposes abortion and allows no exception for rape and incest.

On the economy, she said the president's support of equal pay and other policies are also big factors for women voters.

The Republicans' big play for women voters this week in Tampa probably guarantees at least an equally prominent role for women next week, when the Democrats hold their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Tampa.

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