If I were Mitt Romney and looking to close a 19 percentage point gap with President Obama in support from women I would:
1. Develop an affirmative policy agenda of ideas that help women, and men, yet won't alienate his party base. An agenda that builds on past GOP ideas would help.
2. Continue pushing pocketbook issues. The impact of the president's economic policies on women is helpful to discuss. Adding to it the impact of high gas prices on moms who drive children to activities is fair.
3. Focus on workplace flexibility. Women, and increasingly men, feel significant conflicts between their responsibilities at work and their commitments to family. The rise of the dual-earner household over the past generation puts pressure on working moms, many the very suburban swing voters Romney needs. Women want more flexibility within work to be able to meet their responsibilities. In 2008, nominee McCain adopted workplace flexibility as a policy position and in his convention platform as a way to help women address this challenge. Government can encourage flexible work arrangements that support work/family balance without adding mandates on business or harming the economy. Talking about work/family balance and developing incentives for flexibility would help close the gap.
4. Talk about quality child care. Millions of working women struggle with what to do with their young children during the day. In 1988, President George H.W. Bush emphasized access and cost in child care and promoted tax credits to support families with children. Child care is now an under-the-radar issue free of the political baggage of some other social issues. Much of the U.S. child care system is coordinated by states, through market-driven vouchers and supports work -- all GOP themes. Sen. Burr has developed effective background check legislation. As evidence shows the importance of the early years to the development of children and as GOP governors, such as Bill Haslam, and business leaders talk about investing in them, there is an opportunity for Romney to reclaim and reframe child care.
5. Develop an inspiring education plan. In 2000, G.W. Bush attracted female voters by defining himself as a compassionate conservative through his education agenda. Romney needs to learn from Bush's political success and policy shortcomings to develop a smart education plan. Given its recent platform discussions, the local reaction against No Child Left Behind, and the strength of the Tea Party movement, it will be tempting for the GOP to call for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education in its party platform this summer. That would be a mistake. Instead, Romney needs a fiscally responsible, but forward looking, education agenda that combines choice, innovation and targeted investments.
6. Show concern for the poor. Romney's wealth gives the impression he is out of touch with regular Americans. Part of his Feb. 1 statement, "I'm not concerned about the very poor... ," while taken out of context by his opponents, hurt him with women. As Santorum has done, Romney should follow Jack Kemp's example and talk about how his policies on job creation, education, family and skills investments can help the poor. Paying attention to the most economically vulnerable Americans would demonstrate and gain appropriate empathy.