By Amie Parnes - 04/04/12 09:00 AM EDT
GOP front-runner Mitt Romney needs to better tout his economic agenda and toss social issues aside if he wants to regain his footing with women and narrow the growing gender gap that President Obama has enjoyed in recent weeks, Republican strategists say.
In the wake of the divisive contraception battle—which recently helped bolster Obama among women in a string of polls in a dozen swing states-- Republicans say Romney needs to turn to spending issues which resound with a large swath of the electorate.
Romney needs to focus his attention on lowering gas prices and cutting spending, said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.
“Neither side, the Republicans or the Democrats, has been able to solidify that vote,” Bonjean said.
In the coming months, Fratto said, Romney should focus on pro-growth policies and other issues including trade and education in an appeal to women.
“If he can talk about education as an economic issue not a cultural issue that would benefit him,” Fratto said. “And trade has not been a good issue for Obama either.”
Kirsten Kukowski, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said the RNC has been ramping up efforts in recent weeks to appeal to women.
Recently, the RNC has been reaching out to key women surrogates and women’s groups while expanding their coalition. They have also been conducting outreach meetings with Republican congresswomen and other lawmakers including Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) to learn what issues they need to be focused on to appeal to the critical demographic.
“Do we realize that women are going to be a key voting bloc? Yes,” Kukowski said. “Do we need to bring them into the fold? Yes.”
But so far, Romney may have some ground to make up. A USA Today/Gallup poll this week showed Obama leading the GOP front-runner 51 percent to 42 percent, a big change from last month when Obama trailed the former Massachusetts governor by two points.
“On the whole, women were always more supportive of Obama than men,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University, who teaches a course in U.S. women’s history. “But I do think the issue of contraception—and controversial statements about that issue by some Republicans--has widened the gender gap.”
Jellison said the recent poll reflects “largely a vote against Republican mentality.”
While the White House has been labeled a “boys club,”—even by some former aides-- Obama has taken deliberate steps to court women. In stump speeches across the country, the president frequently touts that the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And aides trumpet that Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls.
In another appeal to women as the presidential campaigns heat up, the White House has deployed first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaWhat will be in Obama’s Presidential Library Clinton, Michelle Obama to hold first joint rally Thursday Obama congratulates Cubs for making it to World Series MORE to appear on family-friendly television shows including The Biggest Loser and Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards.
On Friday, the White House will host a forum on women and the economy, where Obama will make remarks on how the administration has helped create economic security for women, according to White House aides.
In an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program on Tuesday, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said women’s issues are “something we’ve been mindful of since day one of the administration.”
Obama, Jarrett said, has surrounded himself with strong women—from his deputy chiefs of staff to the White House Counsel and beyond.
“Certainly his administration reflects the diversity of our country and women are well-represented,” Jarrett said.
Romney aides say the recent polls showing Obama ahead have been all over the map. But they say they are making a concerted effort to lock down the key constituency.
"Women are pocketbook issue voters, which is why we have done well with them in the primary and have a lot of opportunity for their support in the general election," said Amanda Henneberg, a Romney spokesperson. "Mothers care about the America their children will grow up in and don’t want to see massive debt passed on to their grandchildren. Gov. Romney talks about these issues daily -- the economy, gas prices, unemployment and the household budget squeeze that Americans are faced with -- and has a plan to get the country back on track."
The Romney campaign has also begun deploying their answer to Michelle Obama: Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife.
Romney told voters in Wisconsin this week that Ann Romney is traveling with him and speaking to voters “to make sure we take our message to the women of America.”
“I've had the fun of being out with my wife the last several days on the campaign trail,” Romney said Tuesday in a televised interview. “And as she points out that as she talks to women, they tell her that their number one concern is the economy, getting good jobs for themselves and for their families, understanding that their kids will have good jobs. They're concerned about gasoline prices, the cost of getting to and from work, getting kids to school and to practice. Women are really struggling in this economy, and I believe that the way we're going to get women voters in our side of the column is by talking about how we're going to get this economy going again.”