Mitt Romney's problem with women voters: views from a battleground state

In Virginia, a 2012 battleground state, women prefer Obama to Mitt Romney by 13 percentage points, polls show. Analysts say Virginia reflects the national outlook, which could bode well for the president come November.

Vicki Cronis-Nohe/The Virginian-Pilot/AP
A woman casts her ballot in the Virginia Republican primary election on March 6 in Virginia Beach. How women vote in November in battleground states such as Virginia will be key to the outcome of the presidential election.
Rich Claubaugh/Staff

For the Republican political experts slicing and dicing the electorate this presidential cycle, Christie Struckman is cause for extreme worry.

The McLean, Va., mother of two describes herself as a "radical centrist" and a reliable Republican voter who gauges a candidate's character and ability to reach across the aisle above all. She lives in Virginia's 10th District, a much-watched swing location outside Washington that helped elect President Obama in 2008 but sent a conservative governor to Richmond the following year.

Ms. Struckman has taken a good gander at the GOP candidates running this cycle and decided that no matter whom her party ultimately elevates, she will back Mr. Obama.

"I'm not excited about any of the Republican nominees," says Struckman, a statistician and former college professor, during an interview outside the Spring Hill Recreation Center in Fairfax County. "I don't think any of the Republicans are particularly qualified."

Struckman represents – with only modest hyperbole – the holy grail in American politics today. Women vote in greater numbers than men, and in Virginia, considered by many experts to be a good indicator of the country's sentiment in the national contest, Obama's advantage in recent polling has buoyed the Democrats' hopes for November.

A Quinnipiac University survey released in late March shows Obama defeating all the Republican candidates in Virginia; he has an eight-point advantage over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumed front-runner. Among women, Obama edges Mr. Romney, 52 percent to 39 percent.

Women like Struckman, who are focused on education and issues like improving the nation's infrastructure, have perhaps been alienated by heated social debates dominating dialogue during the Republican primary contest. Some of the candidates have staked out controversial positions about access to contraception. Meanwhile, local discussion has grown rancorous over a Virginia bill – pushed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell – that would have mandated that women seeking an abortion must first have a transvaginal sonogram.

Democrats in the 10th District, which is represented in Congress by Rep. Frank Wolf (R), are positively gleeful at their prospects in the national contest. Mary Christofferson, a mother of three who is Roman Catholic and supporting Obama, said she thinks the abortion and contraception conversations that sidetracked political debate could alienate women across the political spectrum. She said the issues could resonate negatively with "moms and young women, and I would even venture to guess with Republican women."

Ms. Christofferson also said Romney is the best of the GOP bunch of candidates, but that he's being harmed by the lengthy primary contest against former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick San­torum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Rep. Ron Paul.

"The longer they stay in, the more confused Republican voters are," she says.

November is still a long way off, though, and the Quinnipiac numbers show Romney has some bright corners to mine for support among Virginia's registered women voters – the wealthy, white voters, and the faithful, among others.

White women back Romney by 15 percentage points, and he has a 25-point edge with non-college-educated white women. White evangelical women prefer Romney over Obama by 41 percentage points. And women in military households give Romney a 19-point advantage.

Heather Ure, a mother of four and a self-described Republican loyalist, is backing Romney because she believes he has "integrity and moral character."

"He just seems like the only candidate right now who can go head to head with Obama and win," she says.

Ms. Ure, a Mormon who starts law school this fall, suggested that Romney's commitment to his faith is a good measure of who he is as a person, but she wonders if the public's lack of familiarity with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has hurt him. Still, she doesn't think his religion would harm him in a general election contest against Obama. And she believes the family values conversation has an important place in the national dialogue.

"I think he's beatable," Ure says of the president. "I think there are enough people who are fed up with the direction the nation is headed."

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