If an alien who knew nothing about American politics were to look at the line-up at the Democrat National Convention, he wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that abortion was the single most important issue to the American electorate. In the wake of Akin-gate, the DNC is trying to capitalize on the imaginary “war on women” that the Republican party is supposedly waging, and their party convention schedule reflects as much.
Democrats said that they will feature Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parent Action Fund, Nancy Keenan, president of the NARAL Pro-Choice America and Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student whose plea for federal birth control funding drew the ire--and a subsequent apology--from Rush Limbaugh.
What's more, the Democrats are expanding their list of women ready to assail the GOP on women's issue, adding Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski and actress Eva Longoria to the list that already includes Sen. John Kerry and Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Democrats led by party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz believe that the Akin controversy--and his refusal to leave the Missouri Senate race--has revived their chances of winning a majority of women in the presidential race, key to re-electing President Obama. On Wednesday, for example, the party turned their homepage over to the affair with the headline: "The GOP is dangerously wrong for women." And with a devilish move, they included pictures of Mitt Romney, running mate Paul Ryan and Akin.
"Romney, Ryan, Akin and the GOP want to take women back to the dark ages," the Democrats add.
Quite, I'm sure.
The “abortion-palooza,” as my colleague Ed Morrissey dubbed it, certainly appeals to a certain kind of woman – the Sandra Flukes of the world – but is it enough to win with women in November?
The best answer appears to be…eh. It’s clearly a distraction from the actual issues this election is supposed to be about – most specifically, the economy. And polls indicate that it’s not something really on the minds of the American electorate – it doesn’t even register in Gallup’s poll of voter concerns.
But it’s a distraction that can work, and it’s up to the Romney campaign to shift the focus back to issues of more immediate consequence. See, there’s a voting bloc called “Walmart Moms,” suburban women with children 18 years of age or under, who shop at Walmart at least once a week. They’re a swing bloc, whose issues aren’t totally aligned with either party, but they do tend to care about the “women’s issues” that liberals push. They look like this:
Kathleen Sweeney, 62 years old, director of religious education at a church in Mount Sinai, N.Y., supported Mr. Obama in 2008 but is leaning to Mr. Romney now. "I'm hoping Romney will be more effective in getting us out of the economic doldrums we're in," she said. "That's the weak spot of the Obama administration. The economy's still in bad shape."
Chris Hilton, 58, a real-estate-company owner from East Peoria, Ill., is also disappointed that the economy and the housing market haven't improved as much as she had hoped. Still, she is leaning toward voting for Mr. Obama because of his positions on the health law, women's pay and because Mr. Romney has said he would cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood.
"I'm afraid he might take away some of the rights that we fought for so long for," Ms. Hilton said of the GOP candidate. She voted for Mr. Bush in 2004 and Mr. Obama in 2008.
They tend to skew liberal on social issues, but waver between the parties on fiscal issues – and that’s what they care about. These women are thinking about the tax rate, and how it affects their paychecks; caring for elderly parents; getting kids off to college. Thus, it’s a matter of elucidating the ways women and their families will benefit from the economic policies a Romney/Ryan administration would pursue.
Alex Bratty, a Republican pollster with Public Opinion Strategies, is a leading expert on these “Walmart Moms,” and she and her Democrat polling partner Margie Omero have zeroed in on the attitudes these women have toward both candidates:
In a memo based on six recent focus groups, five of them in battleground states, Bratty and Omero describe Walmart moms as frustrated with the tone of the campaign and with both candidates – "overwhelmed by negative ads they cannot trust" and very much interested in the more unfiltered settings offered by the coming conventions and debates.
"They do not feel like either candidate is really connecting with them on the issues that matter most: the economy, education and health care."
Romney gets first crack with his convention. And reading through the focus group reports suggests a steep hill. "On the one hand they see his successful business record and say that is the kind of president the country needs right now – that his success is the American Dream" Bratty and Omero wrote. "On the other hand, they worry about how little they know about him."
Common descriptions of Romney from the focus groups: Not personable. Polished. Slick. Out of touch.
The president, however, can skip the hand stands.
Unhappy. Disappointed. Dissatisfied. Broken promises. Overwhelmed. Those were some of the labels attached to the Democratic incumbent during the discussions.
"There is not a lot of confidence that another four years will result in things getting better," is one damning line from the Bratty-Omero memo.
In other words, Romney’s greatest challenge is likeability – these women might be willing to accept the economic plans he’s laid out, given their disappointment with the president, but they’re not sure they can really trust him. Once again, however, this explains the Democrats’ strategy to highlight the issue of abortion. The economy isn’t an issue where these women feel particularly confident in his abilities – and in fact, the only thing he really has going for him are female “healthcare” initiatives like contraception and abortion.
The Akin controversy has given Democrats an opportunity to pander to women about issues like abortion, which this swing bloc does care about, but which isn’t their primary concern and, in all honesty, is unlikely to be at the forefront of any upcoming policy debates. It’s simply a convenient way for Obama and company to avoid a discussion about a losing issue for them.
It’s up to Romney, then, to remind these women that there are more immediate and pressing concerns, like our nation’s solvency. If he can shift the focus – and assure these women that his policies will help them – then he ought to pick up a few extra female votes in the fall.