Romney Wins Illinois Primary; Women Voters Key to His Strategy

5 years ago

On the same day that a video went viral on the "Real Mitt Romney" (the title of which caught BlogHer editor Julie Ross Godar's eye this morning since it sounded amazingly like a post I wrote), the former governor traveled through Illinois with his wife, Ann, in hopes of securing women voters to stave off his nearest adversary, former Senator Rick Santorum. The Associated Press reports that Romney has won the Illinois GOP primary "with ease."

Since it was a Democratic stronghold with an expected low-voter turnout for today's primary, Illinois turned into a test market as the GOP candidates steered message back to core issues with women voters.

Romney's strategists see women voters as key to effectively ending Santorum's bid by going back to his strength -- economics. They bet that combination would resonate, and it looks like it did. According to a CNN exit poll, men and women both voted in favor of Romney by a wide margin -- though more women than men polled in favor of Santorum.

(Image: © Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune/MCT/

Team Romney stepped up the visibility of his wife in the key state in recent days.

"I love it that women are upset, too," Ann Romney said of Obama's record. "Women are talking about the economy. I love that. Women are talking about jobs. Women are talking about deficit spending. Thank you, women. We need you. We all need you in November, too. We have to remember why we're upset and what we've got to do to fix things."

The candidate's rhetoric also took a decidedly women-centric tone Sunday, hitting what's being called "pocketbook pitch" speeches.

"You've got moms that are driving their kids to school and practice after school and other appointments and wonder how they can afford putting gasoline in the car, at the same time putting food on the table night after night," Romney told supporters at a pancake breakfast in Moline, Ill.

Not to be outdone, Santorum answered back by similarly trotting out his wife, Karen, on the campaign trail. Coverage marks her as a "supporting role" in his political life, though an important one that he relies on for advice.

Unlike Ann Romney, Mrs. Santorum's not out beating the drums on the economy or working families. She's sticking with issues that's made her husband stand out, including her change of heart regarding abortion.

Many women, this blogger included, don't see Santorum as the right candidate for our issues and not just because of his very old-fashioned ideas about family values. He's got a very liberal voting record.

But in regards to her fears regarding her husband on those "old-fashioned" views, Karen Santorum said this recently on Piers Morgan:

"Not at all -- he is not anti-woman. I am a registered nurse, a lawyer and an author of two books and when I was on my book tour he was home making meals, changing diapers, cleaning the kitchen. He’s been supportive of me and my career. They’re trying to make him look like something he’s not. He is completely supportive of women."

And regarding his feelings on reproductive rights:

"Women have nothing to fear, when it comes to contraceptives, he will do nothing on that issue," she said.

She may be right, but I don't know too many women who are likely to believe her. And at this point, Romney's approach might be the better way to go with women voters, though it's certainly not stopped the birth-control concerns.

Yesterday, I received an email from Republican National Committee Co-Chairwoman Sharon Day titled "An Open Letter on Obama's War on Women."

Interestingly, since the "war on women" barbs started flying, there's been plenty of excitement. Both Democrats and Republicans grappled with ways to keep issues in play that engaged and enlivened their respective base female voters without alienating them.

I receive lots of RNC correspondence -- rarely do I heed the message. But I needed to hear what my party thought about issues plaguing our bid for the presidency and how they planned to reach women voters, like me.

Day's letter includes the video "Obama's War on Women" (seemed a tad late for this) as well as strong language that keyed in on the same economic issues pushed from Romney's camp.

Day writes:

"Obama seems to think women are single issue voters that are not smart enough to understand the impact of his failed administration and his over-reaching regulation agenda. The truth is this President has failed America's women on so many levels with his broken promises.

Women are suffering greatly from Obamanomics. Here are a few facts:

  • Women have gained less than 10 percent of jobs created during the "recovery."
  • Unemployment among women has risen by 1.3 percent.
  • Women are living in poverty at the highest rate in 17 years.
  • The extreme poverty rate is the highest EVER!
  • Every woman in America today owes $50,000 toward the national debt (as does every man and child.
  • Women create numerous small businesses yet Obama regulations cost $1.75 Trillion annually.

Her letter goes on to state that Obama's failed to manage "kitchen table issues" such as energy costs, jobs and the economy -- issues deeply important to women voters.

Clearly, reproductive rights concerns won't fade away overnight, despite what seems like a tide turning -- and frankly, that's a good thing. Women need to get and remain engaged in the process.

And the direction of the RNC and Romney's strategists seems supported by recent polling that reflects women want to hear and know more about what the candidates plan to do about the economy.

Whatever got us to this point, it's empowering to see women voters holding the candidates accountable to us as a voting block.

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