Republicans have a problem with women, female firm seeks fix

A new political strategy firm headed by three Republican women is dedicated to helping the party win more elections by winning more votes from women.

New strategy firm aims to help party win votes from women in upcoming elections

Katie Packer Gage, left, and Ashley O'Connor, pictured in Washington, D.C., founded Burning Glass Consulting with a third Republican woman, Christine Matthews, to help the U.S. Republican Party win more women voters. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

The Republican Party has a serious problem with women — it can’t get enough of them to vote for its candidates.

But a trio of women is trying to change that so Republicans can better appeal to their fellow female voters. Katie Packer Gage, Ashley O’Connor and Christine Matthews recently launched Burning Glass Consulting, named after the idea of focusing the sun’s rays on something so intensely that it catches fire.

Gage, O’Connor and Matthews say their goal is simple: help campaigns win the votes of women so Republicans can win elections.

The women are providing strategy, advertising, research, and voter contact services, drawing on their many years of experience working in politics. Burning Glass is thought to be the first company made up only of Republican women that is specifically targeting women voters in the United States.

“It’s a very male dominated industry. There are incredibly smart men, but I think if we are going to try to look at women voters and really understand them … I think there’s a huge advantage to working with a team of all women,” O’Connor said during an interview in Washington, D.C.

O’Connor has done advertising for more than 35 political campaigns, worked on former president George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign and was director of advertising for Mitt Romney’s 2012 bid for the White House. Gage has worked on campaigns at every government level and was Romney’s deputy campaign manager. Matthews brings polling and public opinion research to the team and has been an adviser on political campaigns.

Obama won majority of women

After Romney’s defeat last fall, the women spent a lot of time thinking about why the Republican ticket failed to capture the majority of women voters, who election observers say ended up determining the election’s outcome.

More women than men voted — 53 per cent of the electorate — and of those women, 55 per cent cast a ballot for Obama. The 10-point gender gap between Obama and Romney was the biggest gap since the 1980 election.

Romney still had lots of women vote for him, more married women wanted him to be president than Obama for example, but single women helped carry Obama to a second term. They made up 23 per cent of the electorate and 67 per cent of them voted for Obama.

“We certainly lost the women vote but we sort of anticipate losing the women vote,” said Gage. “As Republicans we can lose women and still win, we just can’t lose them so dramatically.”

The governor’s race in Virginia last month is another example of the Republican Party's struggle to win women, and single women in particular. Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated Ken Cuccinelli by only 2.5 percentage points, but nine percentage points was the spread when it came to women. For single women, the gap was 42 percentage points.

The Burning Glass women are trying to reshape the image of the Republican Party and communicate its policies better to the women who aren’t voting for the party.

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Democrat Terry McAuliffe in October. McAuliffe won more female voters than Republican Ken Cuccinelli. (Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press)

“We want to help highlight the things about our party that we think really do reflect a real caring for those women,” said Gage. She said the Democrats have “done a very effective job of mischaracterizing our party,” portraying Republicans as uncaring about women.

Abortion and reproductive rights played a big role in the 2012 election and the Virginia race, and Gage said the Republican Party has to be better prepared for the Democrat attacks on those issues that are now par for the course.

“What the Democrats would like to do is make these races all about social issues, convince women that the only thing that matters is reproductive rights and then portray Republicans as cavemen on those issues,” said Gage. “That’s a winning strategy for them.”

Eye on 2016: will Hillary Clinton run?

O’Connor, the advertising expert, said negative advertising doesn’t always go over well with women and that  Republicans should change how it’s used. The messages should be more subtle, for example, and women like to be given information and allowed to draw their own conclusions, she explained.

The 2014 midterm elections will be a chance to test new strategies but the Burning Glass women say they have their eye on the long game. They know that in 2016 if Hillary Clinton is the Democrat nominee, they will have an even bigger challenge on their hands. O’Connor said Clinton will start off with a big chunk of undecided female voters solely because they want to see a woman president.

“It becomes even more important that we are learning how to communicate with women in a way that they’re going to understand and listen to,” said O’Connor. “We’re going to have to focus more on policies.”

The women leading Burning Glass are passionate about politics and committed to seeing a Republican administration in 2016. They also know they are waging an uphill battle, but Gage is confident about her party’s prospects.

“There are a lot of things that we need to do differently. We may never win women outright but I think we can win enough women back to put together a majority,” she said. 


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