Women's Roles: Sizing Up the GOP, Dem Conventions

Women's Roles: Sizing Up the GOP, Dem Conventions

By Alexis Simendinger and Erin McPike - August 25, 2012

In a presidential election in which female voters are expected to play an outsize role in picking the winner, one of the curiosities at the Tampa and Charlotte conventions will be how the parties feature women and contrast their issues at the two heavily scripted events.

Unlike in 2008, there’s no Hillary Clinton hatchet-burying to lend drama among the Democrats (Secretary of State Clinton is not permitted to attend President Obama’s political celebration because of her government position, but Bill Clinton will have a big role).

And the Republicans are poised to embrace a budget wonk steeped in Congress as their bet to deliver a bounce to Mitt Romney. Paul Ryan is a different kind of national surprise than the one engineered by John McCain four years ago, when Sarah Palin and her boffo acceptance speech helped deliver a brief, net 20-point bounce to the ticket among white women, according to one poll.

In Tampa, Condoleezza Rice is considered a celebrity female draw, and Ann Romney, who was scheduled to speak on the first night of the GOP convention, is now expected to do so on Tuesday night instead. (Even before Tropical Storm Isaac forced the cancellation of the opening day schedule, the broadcast networks announced they would cover only one hour of nightly convention programming over three nights in each city.)

On television, nearly 20 million women watched Obama deliver his acceptance speech in Denver last time, and 19.2 million women watched McCain’s speech, according to the Nielsen Co.

Granted, 2012 has the contours of 2004 more than the history-making ingredients of 2008. And Americans don’t rely on network television for political information the way their parents (or their older siblings) once did. Nevertheless, large broadcast audiences are predicted to tune in to see the nominees’ speeches, and both parties are crafting convention programs to attract viewers. The party insiders get plenty of attention, but TV holds sway.

And in Charlotte, half of the Democratic delegates and alternates, or about 3,000, will be women this year.

The “Akin Effect”?

Republicans insist they will not pander while in Tampa to what they regard as the artifice of gender politics, according to members of the team in charge of the convention next week.

Obama has used the “legitimate rape” comments by Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin as a way to tie Romney and Ryan firmly to the GOP platform on social issues.

“Ryan is Todd Akin’s ideological twin,” said a senior Obama campaign official during a briefing for political reporters Thursday.

Romney supporters believe most voters will not hold the GOP nominee responsible for Akin’s remarks, especially after Romney denounced what Akin said and urged the candidate to withdraw from his challenge to Sen. Claire McCaskill.

“Todd Akin is a fool and demonstrated terrible judgment,” former Republican National Committee spokeswoman Lisa Miller told RCP. “While I have no doubt that the Democrats will try to paint Republicans with that broad brush, I don't believe his stupid comments will have a lasting impact. Women voters are smart enough to know one dumb comment isn't reflective of an entire political party. And any politician silly enough to use that as a weapon is just as uneducated as Todd Akin was for saying what he said.”

Miller said Republicans will want to see conservative GOP women celebrated in Tampa. “We're going to have to count on the strong roster of accomplished female Republicans who are speaking next week,” she said, adding how “excited” she will be to hear Rice address the gathering, especially in the wake of her admittance to the formerly men-only Augusta National Golf Club.

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Alexis Simendinger is the White House correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RCP.

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