Republican delegates attending the party’s convention in Tampa, Florida, this week echoed lawmakers in criticizing Representative Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape.”
Still, not all Republicans think he should get out of the U.S. Senate race in Missouri. Some, including women delegates, say the party shouldn’t play into Democrats’ attempts to use the flap over his statement to further cast Republicans as conducting a “war against women.”
Emily Jarms, a 37-year-old alternate delegate from Oregon who said Akin’s remarks “weren’t pretty,” wore a sticker supporting him. She said Republicans need to do some soul searching on the issue of women.
“I actually think that Todd Akin is the exact kind of person who truly does support women,” said Jarms, who works as a wax assembler at a titanium casting company in Redmond. “The Democrats accuse us of things. They say this is what Republicans believe. Republicans don’t speak up.”
Akin said Aug. 19 in a television interview that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” so a rape exception to a ban on abortion isn’t necessary. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has described himself as a defender of women’s rights, called Akin’s remarks “outrageous” and joined other party leaders in calling for him to end his Senate bid. Akin has refused to leave the race.
‘Proud of Him’
“All the women I’m friends with agree with keeping Todd Akin on the ballot,” said Roxana Lewis, a 54-year-old alternate delegate from League City, Texas. “I am strongly pro-life and I am proud of him for having a strong stand on pro-life issues.”
For Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, it comes down to math. Walker, who earlier joined the chorus of officials calling for Akin to drop out of the race against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, said keeping Akin on the ballot could cost Republicans a Senate majority.
“If we fall one vote short in the Senate, because of at best an ignorant - at best - completely unscientific and ridiculous statement by that particular individual,” Democrats could retain control of the Senate, he said yesterday at a Bloomberg/Washington Post breakfast.
The contradictory messages illustrate why Romney is having trouble narrowing the gender gap with President Barack Obama.
Some women delegates say the party is making the right decision by taking steps to show Romney as supportive of women and by humanizing him. They said his wife Ann Romney’s speech to the convention on Aug. 28 was a step in broadening his appeal to women voters.
“Romney is not against women, he listens to his wife,” said Sharon Hemphill, a 65-year-old tax attorney from Spring, Texas, attending the convention. “He regards her with a lot of respect.”
And as for Akin: The controversy is “ridiculous” and people know he “didn’t mean what he said,” Hemphill said.
Women, who represent 52 percent of the U.S. electorate, prefer Obama over Romney by an eight-percentage-point margin, according to Gallup daily tracking polls conducted July 30 through Aug. 19.
As the president’s campaign tries to drive that wedge deeper by linking Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan to Akin’s comments, Republicans are trying to redirect the conversation to women’s struggles in the sluggish economy.
“We’re not getting that out as much as we should,” Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to former first lady Laura Bush, said in an interview in Tampa. “Women need to be convinced that the Republican Party and its leadership really understand their difficulties.”
The message, she said, needs to focus on what she termed the Democratic Party’s preference for big government.
“No one wants to pull a safety net away from women in crisis,” said McBride, an executive-in-residence at American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in the School of Public Affairs in Washington.
Carol Salmon, a 62-year-old retired history professor, agreed.
“We believe in fiscal conservatism, we want the government to stay out,” the Canfield, Ohio, resident said on her way to the Tampa Bay Times Forum to hear speeches. She wore a rhinestone-studded T-shirt that said “National Federation of Republican Women.”
Obama has been investing resources to court women voters, running ads in suburban areas of battleground states, including Ohio, Virginia and Colorado, that show Romney saying he would defund Planned Parenthood, according to campaign officials.
One ad, called “The Same,” has aired 3,460 times since it first ran Aug. 18, at an estimated cost of more than $2.3 million, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising. The campaign held women’s summits this week in Des Moines and Las Vegas and sent women surrogates to Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
In Tampa, the Democratic National Committee flew planes that carried the banner “Romney-Ryan-Akin: Too Extreme for Women.” On Aug. 29, the first full day of the convention, the DNC took out a full-page advertisement in the Tampa Tribune that said “Romney-Ryan-Akin, Taking away a woman’s decision-any way they ‘kin.’”
“This isn’t a war on women,” said Jackie Trudell, chairwoman of the Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women. “We’re in a war for women.”
Women in Tampa are less interested in Akin and more focused on hearing about jobs and health care, said Trudell, a 58-year-old delegate.
“He’s going to fade away and that will take care of itself.”