Do Democrats Have A Gender Gap Problem? The presidential election is in a dead heat. Some say that's because Democrats are struggling to appeal to white men. Host Michel Martin speaks with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell about narrowing that gender gap.

Do Democrats Have A Gender Gap Problem?

Do Democrats Have A Gender Gap Problem?

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The presidential election is in a dead heat. Some say that's because Democrats are struggling to appeal to white men. Host Michel Martin speaks with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell about narrowing that gender gap.


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, for the first time, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon, is leading the Republican presidential ticket. In recent years, Mormons have often been identified with conservative politics, but not all agree. We'll meet a group of Mormon Democrats in a few minutes.

But first, it was another big night for the comeback kid.


BILL CLINTON: We are here to nominate a president, and I've got one in mind.

MARTIN: Former President Bill Clinton returned to center stage last night, placing the name of his successor in nomination and making a full-throated case for why President Obama deserves another term.


CLINTON: No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.

MARTIN: But former president Clinton may have grabbed the headlines, but he was not the only one making the case for President Obama. The governor of Delaware, Jack Markell, also spoke, and he's with us now. You can hear all the hubbub around him at Radio Row.

Governor Markell, thank you so much for joining us.

GOV. JACK MARKELL: It is my pleasure. Great to be with you.

MARTIN: Now, you spoke as part of a very interesting collection of speakers on Wednesday night, particularly a number of business executives - for example, the former CEO of Costco, the CEO of CarMax. And you also spoke as a former business executive yourself. You are one of the, as I understand it, the 13th person hired at Nextel, and you were with that company for quite a while. What did you see as your assignment?

MARKELL: What I wanted to explain is that although it's great to have a business experience, having business experience does not mean you deserve to be president. And I think what's more important are the lessons you learn while you're in business and what those lessons that you've learned say about your priorities.

CLINTON: And so I just believe that elections are all about the future. Conventions are an incredible opportunity for candidates or for a party to explain the differences in approach, and in this particular convention, the difference in approach in terms of how you're going to build a strong economy for middle-class Americans. That's what this election is all about, and I think that's why I was really, really impressed with President Clinton last night for sure for laying out so much of this.

MARTIN: Tell me more about that. Where do you think that he hit the mark?

MARKELL: I think he did a great job of explaining the context of how bad things were. People sometimes forget. I mean, we're all impatient, and there's no question everybody would like the economy to be stronger than it is right now. But we do have to remember that when President Obama took over, we were losing jobs. And now we've had 29 straight months of job growth.

So number one is explaining the context. And then number two is explaining the different choices. And essentially, what President Clinton said last night is that the Romney approach is more of this top-down approach, whereas the Obama approach is one of we're really all in this together, and that we need to continue to help invest in our schools.

And for that matter, I thought President Clinton did a very nice job of talking about the importance of investing in kids who don't have much opportunity and maybe don't come from anything. But the fact is if we believe in them, if they know that we're all in this together and that they're not out there just on their own, they can be anything they want. And that's what has made this country strong for a long time, and it's that we're going to have to continue that.

MARTIN: We're hearing two different theories about what has to happen next in this election for either side to prevail. On the one hand, we're hearing that both sides are neck-and-neck, and at this point there are very few people left to decide and this is really about getting out your base and energizing your base.

We're also hearing that there are some people left to persuade, and at this point what both sides have to do is persuade those folks - the independents, if you will - that they can make the better case, essentially, meet in the middle. Which of those theories do you think is accurate?

MARKELL: I don't think they're mutually exclusive. The fact is, you absolutely have to get out your base, and in a very tight election where there are some - there are not a lot of undecideds, according to much of the polls, but there are some. And so both parties very much want to get those undecideds on their side.

So I think, you know, both parties have to do both. I think both parties are trying to do both. Of course, my view is that the president has a better argument with respect to getting the undecideds over to his side.

MARTIN: Because?

MARKELL: Because for people who care about building a strong economy for the middle class, I think his approach is just much, much better. And I don't remember exactly what President Clinton's words were last night, but he made some statement and he said, you know, perhaps this election is going to come down to whether or not people see it the way that he was explaining. And I think that's right.

But I think, look, you've got to get out the base. And I can tell you that the energy at this convention center is huge. I've been to a number of conventions, and this is just incredible. And I think, you know, people are really excited and people are excited to go home and by the time they get back home, there will be 60 or so days to go, and, you know, hopefully there's a lot of momentum coming out of here.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm speaking with the governor of Delaware, Jack Markell. He spoke at the Democratic National Convention last night. It's being held in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Governor Markell, there's been a lot of talk about the Democrats and their pitch to women, particularly progressive women. There's been a lot of talk about the gender gap. I mean, the current polls show that women are favoring the Democrats by significant and important margins. But that means that there's also a gender gap on the other side, which is to say that the Republicans have, in recent years, been more successful at attracting men, particularly white men.

I wanted to ask you why you think that is, and what argument the Democrats and the president need to make to close the gender gap on their side.

MARKELL: First of all, in terms of the gender gap for women, pretty understandable, I think particularly around the issues of choice for many, many women, as well as the Lilly Ledbetter Act. She did, I thought, a great job the other night. So there are a lot of issues there, and, of course, the whole thing that happened in some of the states with respect to the mandatory ultrasounds.

I think a lot of women just couldn't believe what they were seeing and that we're re-fighting some of these battles. With respect to the gender gap on men, there's been a lot of rhetoric about the administration and its friendliness toward business, and I think a lot of the rhetoric, frankly, is unfairly placed.

And the fact is, if you look at it, the president has taken a number of really important steps to help businesses - making it easier for small companies to go public, focusing on the promotion of exports, encouraging foreign direct investment into this country; exactly the kinds of things that will lead to job creation for all people, including the - you know, the white men that you say are the subject of this gender gap. And I think part of the responsibility coming out of this convention, is to make sure that we're speaking to them as well.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you, in the time that we have left, about the - I don't want to call it the to-ing and fro-ing over the platform, for example. I mean, there was some language - the Democrats were very much criticized for leaving God out of the platform and also, omitting language that had been in the 2008 platform, saying that Jerusalem is the proper capital of Israel - or should be the capital of Israel. I mean, Republicans hammered the Democrats for this, and that language was restored after - kind of bit of mess on the floor. How significant do you think that is? And why do you think this became a source of controversy?

MARKELL: Yeah...

MARTIN: The booing on the floor, for example. What was that about?

MARKELL: Right. Yeah. I don't think it's that significant. I've heard very little talk about it here. And I think the bottom line is, party platforms do not dictate a national security or, you know, other foreign policy on behalf of any administration. In this case, the president showed the leadership, to make sure that the language restored, you know, what he believes. And I give him a lot of credit for that.

MARTIN: What about what we're hearing so much about? There's been a lot of talk, also, about an enthusiasm gap. For example, the key constituencies for the president - who supported the president last time in his election in 2008, who certainly still support him. But then people are writing and reporting that there isn't the same level of intensity that there was in 2008, and there's a concern that that's going to show up at the polls.

And also, financially - for example, there have been a lot of stories, including some today, about how the big Democratic donors are not stepping up the plate in the way that they did in 2008, and also in the same way that Republican donors are now, that there's going to be a real gap there in spending, that Republicans are going to be able to out-spend the Democrats in this election. Why do you think that is, and do you think that that can be overcome in the time you have left?

MARKELL: The energy level is very, very high. People are absolutely fired up and ready to go. With respect to the money, let's face it. The Citizens United case changed the landscape. I mean, I think it was just a terrible decision, but right now, it's what's prevailing. The Republicans got started earlier. I guess that was smart on their part. The Democrats started later in terms of trying to raise some of the superPAC money. It looks like the president certainly will be outspent. I'd much rather have the president's message than their money and their message.

MARTIN: The theme of success and what a successful country is has been something that's been discussed first at the Republican convention and now at your convention. I'd like to ask you, what does it mean to be a success, in your view? What does a successful country look like?

MARKELL: Well, a successful country is one where people are able to go as far as their talents will possibly take them. The difference here is the president's view is the best way of achieving that, is one where we recognize that we're all in it together, that we've got a responsibility to make sure our public schools are strong, to make sure that we're making the investments in roads and bridges and broadband that are going to be necessary for the future and the fact that we all do have to make these common investments.

And, when we do, individuals will be, you know, certainly in a stronger position to go as far as their potential will take them. We love to see people be as successful as they can possibly be. That's the American dream and it's one that certainly this party and this president very much believes in.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, governor, I can't help but note and you also noted in your remarks last night that Delaware, of course, is the home state to America's vice president, favorite son Joe Biden, who represented that state in the Senate for so many years. But, you know, his performance in office has become something of an issue in the sense of some ill-considered remarks, perhaps. I mean, in a conversation I had with a Republican delegate last week, she called them Biden-isms.

So I wanted to ask. Do you consider - do you still think that Joe Biden is an asset to the ticket?

MARKELL: Joe Biden is an incredibly positive asset, not just to the ticket, but to the country. I mean, his experience in foreign policy, his ability to lead the Recovery Act effort - the implementation of the Recovery Act effort has been very, very strong and, beyond that, just on a personal level, Joe Biden will never, ever forget where he came from.

I mean, he understands the middle class. He understands working people. He believes in them. He'll fight for them and, you know, from everything I've read - I've not been on the inside, but to see, you know, how the president really values his input and his - you know, his support, I think he's a great asset for the ticket. More importantly, he's just great for the country.

MARTIN: Jack Markell is the governor of Delaware. He spoke to the Democratic National Convention last night. He's with us from Charlotte on Radio Row. You can hear all the activity around him and he was with us from there.

Governor Markell, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MARKELL: Thanks so much for having me.

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Correction Sept. 7, 2012

In an early version of this story, we incorrectly referred to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel.