WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney has had three separate political campaigns to figure out how to attract women voters. A recent USA Today-Gallup Poll shows he needs more practice. The swing-states poll showed the GOP presidential frontrunner trailing President Barack Obama among women voters by 18 percentage points -- 54 to 36 percent.
Facing this deficit of female support, Romney has sought to highlight the huge numbers of women unemployed during the president's term. But Romney's campaign has struggled to answer basic questions about both his math and also his stance on women's issues, such as whether Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, a bill signed by Obama which gave women more legal remedies to address equal pay disparities.
Such trip-ups have confounded Romney before. During his losing bid to unseat Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Romney famously campaigned as a pro-choice Republican, and played up support for women breaking the glass ceiling in the corporate world. But he could be flat-footed when confronted with his actual record on women's issues.
In a May 1994 Boston Globe article, it was noted that Romney's team at Bain Capital was almost exclusively white and male, adding that "there are no minorities among the 95 vice presidents of Bain & Co. Only 10 percent are women." The candidate responded with a tired rejoinder: "It's a profession that has yet to attract many women and minorities."
All of which didn't stop the Kennedy campaign from seizing on this issue for a campaign ad, embedded below:
The gender issue proved critical in that 1994 race, explained Tad Devine, a senior advisor and ad man for the Kennedy campaign.
"I think this narrative as Romney as a manager who couldn't find a lot of slots for women .... I thought that was a very powerful story. I think it had a lot of impact," Devine says. "We were trying to talk to women in particular -- non-college educated women specifically. That narrative of Romney not being a good boss ... I think that was very helpful in terms of the story we were trying to tell."
The Romney campaign denounced the attacks at the time and, Devine recalls, aired a response ad. The campaign did not return a request for comment. But in addition to arguing that Obama's economic policies are troubling for women, the Romney campaign has also pointed out several reports of male favoritism inside the Obama White House, including the much-discussed absence of women from the president's regular golf game.