By Juan Williams - 08/27/12 09:00 AM EDT
As the Republican National Convention begins, the millions of people watching this carefully staged television production from Tampa, Fla., are being targeted with one message:
The conservative old men running the GOP don’t hate women.
This will be the message at every step because the Republicans need to close the Grand Canyon-sized gender gap that exists between them and Democrats among female voters.
Women are now a majority of the workforce and the electorate.
Political strategists on every side agree white women in swing states will decide who wins the race for the White House.
Before this year, the focus on women meant targeting “soccer moms.”
But today 25 percent of all voters are single women, and a recent poll has them favoring President Obama 72 percent to 26 over Mitt Romney.
Romney has a small lead among married women — 50-44 — who make up 27 percent of voters.
The Republican embrace of women at the convention has long been planned. But preparations went way off the rails in the run-up to the convention.
In the last few weeks, Republicans, led by Rep. Todd Akin, the party’s Senate candidate in Missouri, have added fuel to charges that Republicans are waging a “war on women.”
A poll taken earlier this month by CNN/ORC found that 53 percent of women would vote to reelect Obama, compared to 44 percent who would vote for Romney. Fifty-eight percent of all women have a favorable view of Obama, while only 49 percent of women view Romney favorably.
There is even worse news for down-ticket Republican races in that poll. Nearly half of all women, 48 percent, say that the country would be “better off if Democrats controlled Congress.” Only 39 percent said the nation is better off with the GOP in control.
That means Republicans now have a major challenge to persuade the television audience they really are a woman’s best friend.
This is why several prominent Republican women, like Govs. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, will be speaking during prime-time television hours.
But the Republican men putting together the convention don’t want to appear to be pandering to women. They recall from 2008 that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s presence on the GOP ticket did not convince women to come over to the Republicans.
So they will try to shift from a social appeal to women to an economic appeal for their votes.
The problem with that strategy is that it is hard to ignore the mountainous social issues standing between Republicans and American women — especially young or single women — because of the extreme positions on women’s issues embraced by Republicans in the last two years.
Since the 2010 election wave that brought them to power, Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have passed new restrictions making it harder for women to terminate abortions.
This GOP push has taken place even as a national survey taken earlier this year by pollster Scott Rasmussen found that 50 percent of likely female voters describe themselves as pro-choice and only 39 percent identify as pro-life.
The official Republican Party platform calls for a blanket ban on all abortions with no exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
This not surprising. After all, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell chaired the convention’s platform committee.
Recall that McDonnell’s own chance to become the vice presidential nominee was dashed earlier this year by his support for a state law that required women seeking abortions to undergo mandatory, physically invasive ultrasounds.
Just last week, Akin created a national media firestorm by saying women subjected to “legitimate rape” cannot get pregnant. One conservative writer said his words had a “Talibanesque” ring.
Despite calls to drop out of the race, Akin has said he will not quit.
Akin’s words also reminded the nation that vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is similarly opposed to legal abortion in cases of rape and incest.
And the Romney-Ryan ticket supports efforts by the Republican House to completely defund Planned Parenthood.
While Planned Parenthood provides abortions at some of their clinics, it also provides healthcare services for poor women, including checkups, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings and contraceptives.
Last but not least, Romney-Ryan has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Because of the law, 47 million women can now receive preventive healthcare paid for by their insurance company. This includes contraception but also comprises HPV, HIV and STD screenings and treatments, diabetes screenings, mental health counseling, breast feeding supplies and counseling. By repealing ObamaCare, the GOP ticket would reimpose those prohibitive costs on women.
The "war on women" is not what the GOP would have us believe that it is — a political distraction trumped up by Democrats to dupe female voters.
It is a real and understandable negative reaction on the part of women to policies promoted by the Republican Party.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.