Mitt Romney heard through the grapevine that women are excited about his candidacy.
For at least the third time this week, Romney explained why he’ll win over women voters, despite a poll released late Sunday showing him suffering an almost 20-point gender gap in key swing states, by saying his wife talks to women for him. Ann “reports to me” on what women care about, he said.
His female surrogates on the campaign trail — including New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — have taken the same tack. Rather than making assurances that Romney relates directly to women voters, they too admit that he uses Ann as a sort-of female translator, deciphering their concerns and relaying them to the candidate. Instead of supplementing his own pitch to women, Romney seems to use his female surrogates to remove himself from the equation entirely.
On “Morning Joe” Wednesday, Ayotte said that women care most about the economy.
What I think will resonate, first of all, and I spent quite a bit of time with Mitt on the bus. And by the way, all of his, you know, daughter-in-laws and the women in his wife I think are going to be very, very strong for him, and he will very much relate to women.
I think Ann is probably his No. 1 adviser. And she is the secret weapon. She’s terrific. Great with people. And I’m sure that during the general election, as we ramp up, you’re going to see a lot more of her. She really relates to people. … He has great daughters in law, and a real strong family. And that I think will appeal to women voters. This is a great family guy.
Haley, too, backed Romney’s claim that women care about jobs and the economy, and will rally to Romney’s side because of his economic pitch.
“Women don’t care about contraception,” Haley said on “The View” Tuesday. “They care about jobs and their families.” That’s not necessarily true — as The Atlantic’s Molly Ball noted:
The swing-state poll found women’s No. 1 issue to be health care, while men’s was the national debt and deficit. The Romney campaign has recently been deploying Romney’s charming wife Ann to do women’s outreach; her pitch revolves around how concerned women are about the deficit. But according to this poll, that’s not really the case — the deficit was fourth among women’s chief concerns.
Romney reiterated a version of his pitch to women — Ann speaks to women on my behalf — every time he’s been asked about the gender divide since the poll was released.
Just before the Wisconsin primary Sunday, he detailed Ann’s outreach to women voters:
She says that she’s going across the country and talking with women, and what they’re talking about is the debt that we’re leaving the next generation and the failure of this economy to put people back to work. She says that she talks to women and they’re concerned about the jobs that their kids are going to get.
Tuesday on Fox News, when asked what he’ll do to reach out to women:
I’ve had the fun of being out with my wife the last several days on the campaign trail. And she points out that as she talks to women, they tell her that their number one concern is the economy.
It’s a fact of political life that candidates’ wives, who generally enjoy high favorables, hit the trail to tout their husbands, humanizing them in a way that no one else can. But given the mounting evidence that Romney will have to work tirelessly to woo women to his side, admitting that he doesn’t engage with a constituency that’s roughly half the U.S. population directly seems a bizarre strategy.
“It’s always better to have a messenger who’s part of the community who people are going to look at and trust,” says Kirsten Kukowski, press secretary for the RNC. Kukowski pointing out that the same goes for all groups, “whether it’s women or small business owners or veterans.”
Finding effective women surrogates is a major piece of the RNC’s outreach to women, as well as Romney’s, Kukowski said. “They’re making sure that we have our female messengers out there talking on TV, on national TV, on local TV, in local newspapers. It’s always good to make sure that there’s a female voice out there. And, you know, that’s a large part of what we’re doing right now,” Kukowski said.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.