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Women Shine at the GOP Convention

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I must admit that I am quite bummed that there are no women on the ticket of either political party this presidential election. 2008 was an exciting campaign because the Democrats had Hillary Clinton facing Barack Obama in the primaries and the Republicans offered the first woman GOP VP nominee, Sarah Palin.

Women were finally being offered a seat at the table. This year, the electorate seems very unenthused. Is it because there are only men running?

I was pleasantly surprised to hear the expressive and moving speeches of three particular women at the Republican Convention last week in Tampa, FL: Ann Romney, the GOP presidential nominee's wife; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Governor Susana Martinez (NM). Forget Clint Eastwood's ramblings, Paul Ryan's distortions of the truth and Mitt Romney revealing his softer side. These women delivered.

As Bill Maher relayed to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, Ann Romney had the difficult task of "humanizing" her husband. She did this to some degree, although I would have liked to hear more stories and anecdotes about him instead of generalizations like "he makes me laugh." But her biggest assignment was to sway women because of the huge gender gap in the polls between Romney and Obama. She was engaging and appealing, showing her personal side and using the word "love" more times than in any political speech I have ever heard. (The bizarre thing is she was followed by Governor Chris Christie [NJ] who declared that "respect is more important than love." It seemed obvious that the content of the speeches were not coordinated in this convention.)

Secretary Condoleezza Rice gave, in the words of an effusive Chris Matthews of MSNBC, a "powerful and positive" speech, rated as the best of the convention in a Yahoo poll (Romney's was second.) It was mostly about foreign policy, her specialty, but she also delivered this powerful line: "education is the civil rights issue of our day." What struck me was her inspiring delivery and diplomatic presence. In my opinion, if she were the VP nominee, the Obama camp would be in trouble. She is an African-American woman from a working class background who has a lot of foreign policy experience. But alas, she is pro-choice and has ties to President George W. Bush (and thus Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the economy), which Romney perhaps saw as liabilities with his hardcore right base.

I feel that Susana Martinez, the first hispanic woman elected governor in the U.S., is a rising star in the GOP. I was impressed with her natural speaking style and the way she connected with the audience. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow called the speech "stunning." Martinez spoke about her compelling background, growing up on a border town with a father who was a Deputy Sheriff and a mother who worked as an office assistant and how they later founded a security guard business. Her relaxed and positive demeanor won me over when she talked about how she switched from being a Democrat to Republican after a lunch with GOP state party officials where they talked about welfare, taxes and the size of government. She said later in the car to her husband: "I'll be damned, we're Republicans."

Governor Martinez represents, to me, the kind of moderate Republican that is open to compromise and working with the opposition, as she demonstrated by working across the aisle with the majority party of Democrats in her state legislature to turn New Mexico's deficit into a surplus. She and Ann Romney were also the only speakers (that I heard in primetime) who spoke of keeping the Hurricane Isaac victims in our thoughts and prayers.

There was little mention made of Romney by either Rice or Martinez. So as for building up the nominee, they fell far short. But I found what they said and how they said it convincing.

To me, one glaring omission from the convention was Sarah Palin. You would think the former Governor and VP nominee would be asked to speak, especially after all of the energy she brought to the ticket last time and her great convention speech and debate performance in 2008. She also has a following of Tea Partiers and is a charismatic celebrity. I, for one, would have tuned in to hear her.

Mitt Romney needed badly to connect with women at this convention and the above speakers may have been a step in the right direction. However, none of them spoke of policy on women's issues. Not once did I hear the words contraception, rape, abortion, ultrasounds, personhood or equal pay uttered. So while it is nice to see articulate women give powerful speeches, it may not be enough because women want action, not words.

I'm now looking forward to what the Democrats have to offer next week. For sure, women's issues of health and reproductive rights will be discussed as well as gay marriage. It will be interesting to compare Elizabeth Warren's speech to Governor Chrisite's self-promotional bombastic utterances.

Of course, the economy will and should be center stage. That affects us all. But this is, I believe, the year that women will be the determining factor in the election. That is why both the Dems and GOP are courting us so strongly. We've seen what the Republicans have offered. It's up to us to make the right decision and that is why we must watch and compare both platforms and conventions, and review the actions of each party. Maybe we do have a seat at the table, after all.