This post originally appeared on MSNBC.com
Both presidential candidates have been laying it on thick with the ladies. Not that I blame them. We not only out-register and out-vote our male counterparts, we are also multi-issue voters otherwise known as swing voters.
Both candidates push a brand of female appeal, whether on the economy, health, or women’s rights. But, Republican nominee Mitt Romney is saddled by a serious problem, bad GOP wingmen.
It’s like Romney is that guy at a party who’s chatting up a lady and his wingman—let’s call him Senate candidate Richard Mourdock—saunters up and, instead of saying something smooth, offends the lady with whom Romney was hoping to close the deal.
While both presidential candidates desperately want the female vote, one of them has the natural advantage: Barack Obama. Today women are eight to 10 percentage points more likely than men to identify as Democrats. In every presidential election since 1980 a greater proportion of women than men have preferred the Democratic candidate. This phenomenon has come to be known as the “gender gap.” In 2008, the gender gap was seven percentage points, and in 1996, we saw the biggest gender gap ever: 11 points separated Bill Clinton from Bob Dole.
So the GOP hasn’t traditionally been popular with female voters. Yet, in the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans saw an increase of 16 percentage points among women for Republican candidates.
Less than two weeks away from this year’s presidential election, President Obama continues to hold an advantage with female voters. However, a number of respectable polls show the gender gap shrinking to as little as 3%. It seems Romney has capitalized on the economic concerns of women and effectively accused the president of waging an economic war on women.
While the top issue of concern for women is the economy, the relevance of women’s issues remains. It is under this umbrella that the president effectively wooed the female vote.
Romney knows that he can’t mobilize women based on social issues, so his strategy for reaching women has been two pronged: 1) Highlight the economy; and 2) Stay as far away from women’s issues, such as contraception, as possible. He has done a relatively good job of highlighting how women have been hit hard by a down economy and how his priority is to increase job and economic growth. For the most part, Romney has successfully dodged and side-stepped women’s issues such as abortion and equal pay.
But every so often one of Romney’s GOP buddies pops up and says something profoundly offensive like, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Romney tried to distance himself as far as possible from Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin when he made this remark. Romney even called on him to step out of the race.
And just as the Akin incident was starting to fade, out comes another Republican Senate candidate: Richard Mourdock. He steps into it by saying that he opposes abortion even in the case of rape, because pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended to happen.” This wingman is a bit harder for Romney to turn away from given that just a couple of days earlier the Mourdock campaign unveiled an ad where Romney endorses the senate candidate.
With friends like that who needs the Democrats?
Romney has made a conscious effort to distance himself from the “no abortion under any circumstance” plank of the Republican platform. He has also gone to great pains to say that he does not oppose contraception, including in new advertising. While his “binders full of women” was a poor choice of words, Romney was ultimately trying to highlight his awareness of increasing gender diversity in the workplace.
Unfortunately for Romney, amidst all of this softening on women’s issues, his larger circle of friends will keep him from turning around the gender gap.