I have worked for three decades as a staunch advocate of building a “big tent” party that includes both pro-choice and pro-life Republicans. In that time, I have seen controversies such as this one alienate a large segment of the female population and perpetuate the gender gap among voters that has historically plagued our party.
This is not where I hoped my party would be in 2012. Today, the Republican Party faces a clear challenge: Will we rebuild our relationship with women, thereby placing us on the road to success in November, or will we continue to isolate them and certainly lose this election?
The Akin controversy and the ongoing debate over abortion are especially regrettable given the fact that Romney had made inroads with female voters. The most recent three-week average of polls from Gallup — taken before the controversy — showed him down only eight points to President Obama among women. That was a marked improvement from earlier margins; he was down 20 points in the spring.
At the convention, Romney must work to overcome what others in our party have done to undermine our standing with women, and he must restore the image of who we are as Republicans.
The convention affords him the first unfettered opportunity to reset the debate. When he takes center stage, he can restate who he is and what he hopes to accomplish as president. First and foremost, Romney should vigorously, not timidly, disassociate himself from the extremes within our party by reiterating to the national audience that the overly rigid language on abortion in the GOP platform — which includes no explicit exceptions for cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother — does not represent his view, nor has it been his position. In fact, 75 percent of Americans agree with Romney that these exceptions should be recognized, according to a recent Gallup survey, putting him squarely in the mainstream on this issue. In doing so, he will demonstrate that he can strongly stand up to those with whom he disagrees, even within his party.
He should also emphasize his strong record on women’s issues, which shows that he cares about their well-being. He will be off to a good start when former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, my colleague, speak to the convention about why the Romney-Ryan ticket is right for women in this election.
Romney should highlight that, as governor, he enhanced the Massachusetts sex offender registry by permitting information and photos of high-level offenders to be posted online. He also signed legislation allowing the GPS tracking of domestic violence offenders to help keep their victims safe at home and at work. At least 18 states have adopted similar laws. Massachusetts also led the way in the number of women in top positions of government during his tenure as the state’s chief executive, including his lieutenant governor, chief of staff and numerous cabinet officials.