CNN's GUT CHECK | for March 21, 2012 | 5 p.m.
- n. a pause to assess the state, progress or condition of the political news cycle
JUST IN: Ann Romney to appear on Piers Morgan Tonight at 9 p.m. ET… Happy Anniversary, Honey.
For a presidential race that no longer features a female candidate, women sure are taking high profile roles in the GOP primary.
No wonder, given that then-Sen. Barack Obama won the female vote by 13 points over Sen. John McCain in 2008, according to the CNN National Exit Poll. Women made up 53% of that year’s electorate. If the Republican presidential nominee hopes to defeat President Obama in 2012, he better be able to close the gap.
That’s why it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Ann Romney, not a prominent elected male official, again introducing her husband, Mitt, Tuesday night at his victory party in Illinois. In addition to thanking some of her husband’s key backers, Ann Romney made a point to mention the women she was meeting on the campaign trail.
“Women are coming to me and saying, ‘Will you please talk about deficit spending and budgets?’ I'm loving that. Loving that,” she said. “Women are angry. They're angry about the legacy we're going to leave their children and their grandchildren. And I'm going to tell them something. I've got somebody here that can fix it. So we're going to turn the time over to the guy that can go and fix it.”
In politics, it is not always the message, but the messenger who is most effective in delivering it. Ann Romney helps soften what are considered to be two of her husband’s greatest weaknesses: a stiff image and inability to connect with people.
He is not alone in the need for a woman’s touch. To help soften his own image, Rick Santorum needs to look no further than the person he dubbed “his hero” in CNN’s Florida presidential debate: his wife. Karen Santorum decided to put her career on hold and focus her attention on raising the couple’s seven children, which he often talks about on the campaign trail. The story is received very well by his conservative base. But people who know the couple well tell us she plays an important role in his political life. Rick Santorum has said she will call him on the campaign trail if he has made a political gaffe.
While it is unclear if she chastised him for his wording in talking about contraception (after all, she agrees with him), how he handled it was clearly a political misstep on his part. The CNN Exit Poll from Illinois Tuesday shows that Santorum lost the female vote to Romney by 9 points. When you drill down into two exit poll subcategories, the news is even worse for Santorum. In Illinois, Romney carried “working women” by 18 points and “married women” by 13 points (“nonmarried women” was too small of a sample size).
If Santorum has any hope to win the nomination he will need to broaden his support beyond the conservative base, perhaps to female voters. Enter Karen Santorum. In an interview Monday on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” Karen Santorum sought to soften the hardened anti-woman image that some people are trying to affix to her husband. She said that if elected president, her husband would not seek to outlaw contraception and emphasized “he is not anti-woman” – and even threw in this delicious tidbit for moms everywhere: Rick Santorum helped on diaper duty.
“I'm a registered nurse, I'm a lawyer, and an author of two books,” she said. “When I was doing my book tours, Piers, Rick was the one who was home changing diapers and making meals and cleaning the kitchen. He's been 100% supportive of me and my dreams and my career. It was my decision to stay home and be a mom at home. And some day when I come back to work, Rick will be 100% behind me.
“So it makes me really sad that the media tries to do that to him. They try to make it look like he is something that he's not. Rick is a great guy. He is completely supportive of women. He's surrounded by a lot of very strong women.”
It is Newt Gingrich’s wife, Callista, who has drawn the most attention so far, because of the publicity surrounding their affair when Gingrich was still married to his second wife. Callista is always by his side and he frequently talks about her on the campaign trail. In a December interview with The Christian Broadcasting Network, Gingrich acknowledged that he is protective of his wife.
“Well, there have been lies told about her and lies told about the campaign to her disadvantage. That’s not fair,” he said. “Look, she is a public figure in a sense that if you are going to run for president, you’re running as a couple. Inevitably there is some of that.”
The former House speaker said that if it wasn’t for his wife’s support, he would have abandoned his bid for president.
“I don’t think I would be here today without her,” he said in the CBN interview. He specifically mentioned the months immediately after his staff quit last summer, which he described as “really bad.” Gingrich said his wife’s advice was, “Let’s get to the debates.” We all know it was Gingrich’s performances in the debates that resurrected his candidacy.
In a separate interview with CBN, Callista Gingrich said they were a “team.”
“This was a joint decision that he would run for the presidency and I am glad we made that decision,” she said. “We believe deeply that this country has a lot of challenges ahead of it and we fear for the future of our country and we are going to give it our best shot.”
As for Ron Paul, we haven’t seen much about his wife. The couple celebrated their 54th anniversary in February and at the CNN Florida Republican Presidential Debate in January, he described her: “The mother of five of our children … grandmother of 18 grandchildren, does an excellent job. And she's also the author of a very famous cookbook, ‘The Ron Paul Cookbook.’"
(And yes, we have read it, and recommend the chocolate chip cookie recipe.)
But it all comes back to politics. The Romney’s celebrated their 43rd anniversary on Wednesday in real political fashion. The campaign sent out a three-minute video of Ann Romney talking about their courtship that concludes with giving the viewer the options of making a donation or signing up for campaign updates. The video was titled “A Love Letter to Mitt.” Political points? Yes. Romance? Not sure about you, but that sure wouldn’t cut it in our households come anniversary time.
Who is the “tallest 4-foot-11-inch person” that the House Minority Whip knows, and why is she important today?
Did you miss it?
Leading CNNPolitics: Health care debate shifts to Medicare panel
In the bitter political debate over health care reform two years ago, one of the most contentious issues was a proposed advisory board that would recommend how to achieve needed but as-yet-unreachable Medicare savings.
Leading Drudge: Tebow and the Jets
Unusually quiet in recent weeks, the New York Jets shattered the calm Wednesday by completing a trade for polarizing quarterback Tim Tebow.
Leading HuffPo: Mitt Romney Platform 'Like An Etch A Sketch,' Top Spokesman Says
It's hardly a secret that presidential candidates tack toward their base over the course of a primary and shift toward moderation once that primary is over. What's rare is when a campaign admits as much publicly.
Leading Politico: Not a Hill of a lot of love for Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney’s campaign called on the Washington establishment for help this month. The response: a promise of cash, but not much enthusiasm.
Leading The New York Times: Pennsylvania Rises in Importance for Santorum After Loss in Illinois
It may seem an odd choice, holding a rally here in Pennsylvania to “celebrate” the results of the Republican presidential primary in Illinois. Rick Santorum’s staff said that he came here Tuesday night for a symbolic connection to the Land of Lincoln, as Gettysburg is “the very place President Lincoln gave his most poignant and passionate defense of freedom and the American spirit.”
The political bites of the day
– Profile in Courage? Jeb endorses Mitt 50 days after Florida primary –
JEB BUSH ENDORSES MITT ROMNEY VIA E-MAIL: “Primary elections have been held in thirty-four states, and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall. I am endorsing Mitt Romney for our Party’s nomination. We face huge challenges, and we need a leader who understands the economy, recognizes more government regulation is not the answer, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism and works to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed.”
– Shake it up and start all over –
ROMNEY SPOKESMAN ERIC FEHRNSTROM ON CNN’S “STARTING POINT” THIS MORNING: “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign, everything changes. It is almost like an Etch-A-Sketch you can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”
– Hillary honors Laura –
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON AT TRIBUTE EVENT TO FORMER FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH: “Laura Bush did so much to elevate and strengthen this council both in ways public and private. She became a passionate advocate for the rights and roles of women in Afghanistan and she remains one of the strongest advocates today. We were just talking at the table about some of the perks of being a first lady. And one of them I learned from Elaine Chao, the former secretary of Labor here, is that Cabinet secretaries do take first ladies’ calls.”
– Another Ryan idea on the debt –
REP. PAUL RYAN AT A HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE MEETING: “If I had a dollar for every political consultant that told me `don’t touch these programs. Don’t touch Medicare, Medicaid all of these things, because the other party, they are going to run all these negative ads against you and you might lose your election.’ If I had a dollar for every one of those people we could probably retire the national debt. We can’t afford to keep acting like politicians. This country needs leaders.”
What stopped us in 140 characters or less
Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich)
Etch a Sketch is a great toy but a losing strategy. We need a nominee w/ bold conservative solutions. http://Newt.org #RomneyToys
Matt Beynon (@mattbeynon)
@RickSantorum studying up on @MittRomney policy positions http://yfrog.com/odl78wmj
Jim Rutenberg (@nytjim)
Amazing that #Romney campaign malapropisms are not limited to the candidate himself. http://nyti.ms/GJrTjx #etchasketch
Peter Hamby (@PeterHambyCNN)
Don't expect Mitch to be the next GOP bigwig to line up behind Romney. He's likely neutral through Indiana's May 8 primary.
Amy Sullivan (@sullivanamy)
Maybe Fehrnstrom's remark was just Romney's sly way of boosting sales for one U.S. company at a time. #rivalsetchingandsketching
Rep. Steny Hoyer on Tuesday called Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, the “tallest 4-foot-11-inch person I know” and on Wednesday Capitol Hill stopped to honor her for being the longest serving woman in the history of the U.S. Congress. CNN’s Dana Bash got the story. Though the Hill stopped to herald Mikulski, it was not always that welcoming. In fact, when she first got to the Senate, Mikulski had to ask her Democratic leader, then Sen. Robert Byrd, for permission to wear pants. CNN’s Deirdre Walsh also told us this great fun fact: Rep.Nancy Pelosi, D-California, may have been the first female speaker of the House, but it wasn’t until Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, took over that a women’ s bathroom was installed off the House floor. Before then female members had to walk across the second floor to a reading room that had a restroom or go downstairs to the public restroom. Now that’s progress.
Our inbox awaits: email@example.com
Anyone can sign up for Gut Check by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Tips or comments? Send them to Michelle; send complaints to Preston, because he is already in a bad mood.