How the GOP Can Woo Women Voters

By Mary Kate Cary

In every presidential election since 1964, more women have voted than men. In the last few presidential elections, voter turnout rates for women have equaled or exceeded voter rates for men in nearly every age group; in fact, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, in 2008 nearly 10 million more women than men cast their ballots in the presidential race. Republicans can't afford to ignore the women's vote, which now constitutes 53 percent of the electorate.

Exit polls from Super Tuesday voting showed that one fifth of the those who voted in Ohio were working women; in Virginia, married women made up a third of the electorate. In Oklahoma, more than half of voters were female.

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Many women consider themselves independent voters. In the 2010 elections, the Pew Research Center found that among female independent likely voters, the GOP held a 43 percent to 40 percent edge over Democrats. There's an opportunity here for the GOP: If Republicans want to continue picking up as many seats as they did in 2010, they need to focus on winning the independent women's vote, too, not just die-hard Republicans.

Here are five ideas for wooing independent women voters:

Denounce Rush Limbaugh's attack on the Georgetown University law student. Sandra Fluke testified in favor of mandating that religious institutions provide free contraception to employees, a position most of us on the right disagreed with, and was vilified on the air by Limbaugh for wanting to be "paid for having sex." The fallout is still continuing among his advertisers and listeners. It's not too late for the Republican leadership to say that calling a young woman a "slut" and a "prostitute" because she disagrees with a conservative position is more than just a poor choice of words, or inappropriate language, or "not the words I would have chosen." It insults women and it's wrong. Republicans need to make it clear that Limbaugh doesn't speak for the rest of us.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

Get back to the economy. Talking about "women's issues" used to mean talking about child care, education, and equal pay. These days, poll after poll shows that the top issues with female voters are the economy and jobs-not abortion, same-sex marriage, or contraception. More women than ever before are small business owners, and many are the breadwinners in their families. As the ones who are more likely to be paying the bills and making healthcare decisions, women are particularly concerned with the size, scope, and cost of government. Time to unveil a common-sense economic plan for reining in spending, simplifying the tax code, reducing the deficit, and reforming entitlements.

Don't wait until the GOP convention to name a vice presidential running mate. In 2008, the Republican convention was held over Labor Day weekend, and the vice presidential nominee had no time to get up to speed on the issues before Election Day. This year's convention will be nearly as late, convening the weekend before Labor Day. Why not jump-start the process? The Democrats already have Vice President Biden to help them campaign. Republicans might consider naming someone once the presidential nomination is locked up this spring. There are plenty of great possibilities, including some prominent women such as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina; and Gov. Susanna Martinez of New Mexico, to name a few. Better yet, put soon-to-be-former Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine on the ticket. Not only would it send a great signal to independent women, it would say a lot about changing the tone in Washington (that is, if you could talk her into it). At the very least, all of these women should be invited to be senior campaign surrogates this fall.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Get Paul Ryan out front and center. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is also head of the Republican National Committee's Presidential Trust, so he's precluded from endorsing primary candidates. But once the nomination is locked up, I'd get his endorsement and send him out to campaign, and fast. Ryan is especially good at framing the GOP's pro-growth message in "kitchen table" terms. He's from the blue state of Wisconsin and has a knack for winning debates without offending the other side. Truth be told, all the women I know think he's the best thing the Republican Party's got going for it.

Start looking presidential. On a lighter note, some of the Republican candidates sport outfits I wouldn't let my husband wear out of the house. Women notice things like sweater vests and dad jeans, and not in a good way. (I'm concerned that one of them will appear in wide-wale corduroy pants with little elephants on them.) This isn't a casual Friday wing-ding at the office; it's a vote for our next commander in chief. Wearing a jacket and tie shows respect for the office. .

The Republican Party should be the home of women and independent voters who are concerned with the massive expansion of government we've seen during the Obama administration and are worried about what may lie in store in a second term. Republicans should be making a pro-business case to women and independents for growing the economy, reducing debt, and creating jobs-not going after them over divisive social issues. More women than men vote, and there are more independents than Republicans. Time for the right to make all of them feel welcome.