Women for Mitt: why they say it's Obama waging a 'war on women'

Women voters who back Mitt Romney are ratcheting up grass-roots efforts to persuade other women that the economy is a women's issue. Polls show Romney trails Obama among women. 

Rick Wilking/REUTERS/File
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talks to two women after a campaign event in Golden, Colo., in August.

For Gina Maddox, a self-described "sassy Southern woman," this presidential race is all about injustice to women.

And for that reason, she says she'll be voting for Mitt Romney

It is, in many ways, a reversal of the one of the major narratives that has defined this campaign. President Obama and his allies have suggested Republicans are waging a "war on women" through their policies on abortion and health care. But Ms. Maddox rejects that idea.

Liberal women and the left try to measure women's issues by their own yardstick "without asking the Republican women about their concerns," she says. Women's issues, she adds, are far larger than just social issues – and that's the message that she and other women who support Romney are taking to the streets, to Facebook, and to the phones to try to persuade other women to join them. 

In a nutshell: It’s the economy, ladies. 

It is a smart move, experts say, though doubt remains about whether the tactic will be enough to overcome many women voters' traditional discomfort with the GOP's social policies. "Many people in the Republican Party are pretty extreme when it comes to pro-life or contraception, and a lot of women are uncomfortable with that," says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Maddox would seem to have a big hill to climb. Since the 1980, the women's vote in presidential elections has gone to the Democratic candidate every time. Polls for Election 2012 show women favor Mr. Obama over Mr. Romney by at least 7 percentage points.

"Women are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates because they feel that they need a social security net provided by the government, because women are economically more vulnerable,” says Professor Walsh.

Some polls have shown a positive blip for Romney after the Republican convention and the speech by his wife, Ann. But the Romney campaign needs Maddox and other women like her.

She started “Women For Romney” this year, and it has about 1,500 members. She also has a Facebook page, an online talk-radio show, and does volunteer work, encouraging women to take county chairs for the Romney campaign. 

“We encourage women to vote for Mitt Romney because what impacts us the most is the economy, government overspending, unemployment, and dismal job creation,” says Maddox, who got engaged in the campaign when she was asked to serve as a women’s coalition chair for Romney in Florida. “We focus on educating women voters, one vote at a time, woman to woman.” 

Asked about social issues, she puts them aside, simply calling Obama's health-care law a disaster.

Rae Lynn Chornenky, president of the National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW), is not so dismissive of social issues, but she agrees that they should not be the focus of efforts to reach out to female voters. An NFRW survey of more than 8,500 Republican women suggests that the economy is first on women’s minds going into the 2012 election, she says.

“There is a war on women, and it’s coming from the Obama White House and the Democrats,” says Ms. Chornenky, quoting government statistics that 92 percent of jobs lost during the Obama administration have been women’s jobs – a number Romney likes to cite, as well.

(Fact checkers note that, historically, men lose their jobs first in a downturn, then women. If job statistics from 2007 are included, the male-female jobs-lost ratio changes significantly, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center's nonpartisan Factcheck.org writes: "The unemployment rate is now 8.3 percent for men, 8.1 percent for women.")

But the NFRW's 75,000 members are taking their message to other women through traditional grass-roots campaigning. “We know how to get the message out, whether it’s phone calling or going door to door,” says Chornenky.

The Romney campaign is also trying to connect with women voters on a personal level. In August, it launched “Women for Mitt,” chaired by Mrs. Romney. The group plans town-hall meetings and rallies throughout the country. “Our goal is to get a diverse coalition of women actively involved in the campaign,” says Courtney Johnson of the Romney campaign.

Will that be enough?

“The president right now has a pretty big lead and I don’t expect that to vanish,” says Walsh. 

Moreover, Democrats are unlikely to let social issues go untouched. “They energize the Democratic Party,” Walsh says.

And with unhelpful comments like those of Republican Rep. Todd Akin, who said a woman's body could prevent pregnancies during a "legitimate rape," social issues are hard for Republican women to avoid. Says Walsh: “An important question is how strongly Democrats will go after this issue.” 

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