Republican women play down social issues

New York Times News ServiceAugust 31, 2012 

TAMPA -- About a block from the Republican National Convention, in a strip mall next to a Hooters restaurant, is the Woman Up! Pavilion, sponsored by the Young Guns Network, a "super PAC" promoting conservative candidates.

Its decor is warm and welcoming, with circular banquettes accented by hot-pink carnations and red roses. There is a hair salon offering blowouts, and a gift shop. Cocktails like the "Lady Lemonade" and "Woman-Tini" are offered for $6.

The pavilion holds a one-room women's suffrage museum and offers forums on topics like "Advocacy Means Business: Building Your Organization" and "The Europeanization of the United States."

What is missing from the all-inclusive spot? Any discussion of the social issues -- abortion, same-sex marriage, insurance coverage for birth control -- that have at times engulfed the Republican nominating contest.

"We don't talk social issues," said Mary Ann Carter, policy director for the Young Guns Network, who manages the pavilion, as several young women from the convention milled about the space sipping coffee and shopping for souvenirs. "We talk about the economy. We talk about health care. We talk about energy."

This refrain is often heard in and around the convention these days. In dozens of interviews, women at the convention made clear that social issues are now taking a back seat. Even those who passionately agree (or disagree) with the new conservative party platform -- calling for traditional marriage, public display of the Ten Commandments and a sweeping ban on abortion -- did not seem to want to discuss the subject. (The one exception was Mitt Romney's sister Jane, who Wednesday declared that if Romney is elected president, a ban on abortion is "never going to happen.")

Instead, women at the convention preferred to point to opening night Tuesday, when a parade of Republican women took to the podium, including Ann Romney, who spoke about her family, and Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina, who preached a gospel of economic empowerment, free of meddlesome government rules and regulations.

Being visible was one way, Republican women said, to counter the Obama campaign's charge that their party is waging a war on women.

The distancing from social issues is all the more urgent, some conservative women acknowledged, in the aftermath of highly polarizing comments that Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri made two weeks ago, claiming that in cases of "legitimate rape" one need not consider abortion, because the female reproductive system shuts itself down.

And on that subject of the economy, Republican women are intent on returning the incoming fire from the Democrats. Rae Lynne Chornenky, the president of the National Federation of Republican Women, addressed the convention Monday, repeated the oft-discredited claim that 92 percent of all the jobs lost under President Barack Obama were those of women.

"If there is a war against women," she said, "it is President Obama who waged it."

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