By Juan Williams - 09/05/12 01:59 AM EDT
Twenty-four years ago, then-Texas Gov. Ann Richards delivered the keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
One of the biggest applause lines of that memorable speech was when she said, in her unmistakable Texas drawl, that women “can perform [in national politics] — after all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, she just did it backwards and in high heels.”
The key to the convention and the fall election is whether Democrats can hold — and expand — their lead among women over the Romney-Ryan ticket. If they can do it, they will win.
A bipartisan poll of female voters conducted last week by Republican Kellyanne Conaway and Democrat Celinda Lake for the Lifetime television network found that 52 percent support President Obama. Only 36 percent support Mitt Romney. Young women and single women favor Obama by nearly 3-to-1 over Romney.
In 2008, Obama won 56 percent of the women’s vote to John McCain’s 43 percent. It was the critical difference in the race. This year, the gap is wider.
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter has correctly pointed out that “in every presidential election since 1950 — except Goldwater in ’64 — the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted.” For this reason, she joked that as a Republican, she feels the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was a “rash experiment.”
What happens at the Democratic convention will approach a “rash” appeal to female voters. Could it set off a “culture wars” debate over social values and spark a backlash against the Democrats?
Everything at the convention is scripted, staged and performed for women — especially suburban white women in swing states such as Ohio, Florida and North Carolina.
This convention is breaking records with the number of women featured as top-rank speakers, beginning with first lady Michelle Obama. The first lady has a 66 percent approval rating, according to the most recent Gallup poll.
Even more politically potent than the first lady will be a wave of personal stories from lesser-known women about President Obama’s support of equal pay for women, who are now the majority of the American workforce, and women having control of their healthcare decisions.
Leading these female speakers is Sandra Fluke. The 31-year-old Georgetown University law graduate set off charges of a GOP “war on women” earlier this year when she testified before Congress on the importance of health insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Fluke was invited by congressional Democrats to speak after House Republicans held a hearing about contraceptive coverage — contending it was a violation of religious liberty — without inviting a single female witness.
Fluke is likely to tell the convention the same personal story she told Congress. One of her friends was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome and was unable to get the medicine she needed — to stop cysts from growing -— through her insurance plan at Georgetown, a Jesuit school, because it also could be used for birth control. Her friend later had to undergo surgery to remove an ovary because of a growth the size of a tennis ball, Fluke testified.
Fluke was called a “slut” and a “prostitute” by Rush Limbaugh for what he described as her request for taxpayers to pay for her birth control. The president responded with a personal phone call to Fluke. And now Democrats are embracing Fluke as a political symbol.
Fluke’s message will be reinforced by Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Ann Richards’s daughter. She will make it clear that Democrats will continue federal funding for Planned Parenthood, while Republicans want to eliminate it.
That message is a big winner for Democrats because polls show women are overwhelmingly on Planned Parenthood’s side in this debate. All these speakers will likely mention that 47 million women can now get free preventive healthcare under ObamaCare.
The Democrats also plan to go after female voters with an appeal to equal pay. The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. This law ensures that women who face pay discrimination can’t be denied back pay because of any statute of limitations. And don’t be surprised to hear that President Obama appointed two women, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, as justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Overall, the Democrats are playing a strong hand with female voters. The only question is whether it is a winning hand.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.