After a poor showing among female voters in the 2008 presidential election, the Republican Party might again have a women problem.
Sexual misconduct accusations against Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich’s treatment of his ex-wives, and harsh rhetoric during debates have raised concerns among some Republicans about the party’s ability to attract women in next year’s presidential race.
American women have generally favored Democratic presidential candidates for decades, but some strategists thought Republicans could take advantage of “buyer’s remorse” over the bad economy in 2012 and win back women independents who helped Barack Obama win the White House in 2008.
Instead, some of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination could alienate women.
“I think the Republican party has done a disservice because it should be making more of an effort to attract female voters,” said strategist Ford O’Connell, an aide to the John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign in 2008.
Appealing to women voters will be particularly important in the general election fight against Obama, who won the White House in 2008 with the biggest margin ever recorded by a Democrat among female voters.
Because he was backed by 56 percent of women, Obama won the White House with only a minority, 49 percent, of the male vote. More women than men also participate in general elections. Data show that 10 million more women cast ballots in 2008 than men.
Cain has been hit by charges that he harassed women employees when he led the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, accusations he has repeatedly denied. After an allegation that he conducted a long extra-marital affair, the businessman said this week he was reassessing his campaign.
Some women have also raised questions about Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Running as an experienced elder statesman with conservative ideas, the 68-year-old Gingrich replaced Cain as Republican front-runner last month. But he has admitted to adulterous affairs in his previous two marriages, which could put off some women.
“That does affect the level many people do trust a candidate,” said Maureen Olsen, president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women, said of Gingrich. “I think it still is an issue particularly in the more conservative parts of the party.”
Cain has also been criticized for comments such as referring to Nancy Pelosi, the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives, as “Princess Nancy” during a debate.
Strategists said such talk can alienate women voters as can harsh tones on issues from immigration and abortion to Iran’s nuclear policy.
“They are going to have to couch some of their positions in more friendly terms. The combative nature of some positions seems to turn off women,” O’Connell said.
Studies show women generally tend to favor candidates who are seen as compromisers.