by Imran Siddiquee
Tuesday marked the delayed first night of the Republican National Convention, and it was a concerted effort on the part of the GOP to quickly and efficiently depict Mitt Romney as the powerful leader he hopes to become this November – and to distance itself from the embarrassing Todd Akin controversy of recent days.
And at the center of this strategy to convince the American public of Romney’s abilities (by way of Obama’s faults) – and help them forget all about “legitimate rape” – were Republican women.
We watched as female speaker after female speaker was trotted out for the adoring crowds in Tampa Bay Times Forum – from an up-and-coming Utah mayor named Love to the wife of the candidate herself. All in all, 10 Republican women spoke last night, with Ann Romney at one point even gushing, “I love women!”
Yet for all the hopeful messages of inclusiveness and respect for “women’s issues,” the night was in stark contrast to an event I attended earlier in the day.
At 1 pm I had the privilege of sitting on a panel during Political Parity‘s “Unconventional Women” event, which featured amazing conversations with powerful women in politics, media and academia. Former US Senate Candidate Christine O’Donnell shared the stage with Ambassador Swanee Hunt, Former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts Kerry Healey and many others. The focus was on how to get more women elected, and the solution – perhaps surprisingly for an event held during such a partisan event – seemed to be bipartisan emphasis on getting more women to run. And then publicly (and financially) supporting candidates when they do run.
Debbie Walsh, from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, relayed astonishing statistic after statistic about the lack of improvement in the representation of Republican women in both the House and Senate. Currently there are 4 female GOP Senators (13 for the Democrats) and 24 Representatives (49 Democrats).
This year, 107 Republican women filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. Only 45 have won their primaries (so far).
There seemed to be agreement around the fact that the political leadership, on both sides of the aisle, had failed. But that at least for Democrats there are groups like Emily’s List which are dedicated to raising money for female candidates, which has been a major factor in getting more of them past the primary stage.
Christine O’Donnell, a former GOP candidate for Senate, spoke from personal experience about how the media had demeaned and diminished her during her 2010 campaign (everyone left with a copy of our very own Miss Representation), and that her own party had not always stood up for her. It was, surprisingly, a Democrat (Sam Bennett, head of the Women’s Campaign Fund which supports pro-choice women on either side, who was also sitting next to her on stage) who she first noticed on FOX News, coming to her defense.
“We’ve got to have each other’s backs,” O’Donnell said.
Ms. Hunt, talked about the need to encourage individual elected politicians to take up the mantle of improving representation in their states (Nancy Pelosi’s work in her state of California was used as an example), and that we could no longer wait for the national party heads to get the message. The room seemed to be in agreement that neither party was making a concerted national effort to recruit more women.
Which of course brings me back to the night’s speeches. The emphasis on women at the convention is clear, but does it really reflect the Republican platform? And if so, why aren’t more Republican women being supported and elected by the base?
My guess is that Paul Ryan won’t be addressing these questions in his speech tonight – or anytime soon.
Imran is the Social Media and Communications Manager at MissRepresentation.org. Follow him on Twitter @imransiddiquee
Check out the our Elect Women 2012 page for more info on supporting female candidates.