What GOP Women Want

Security, small government, and family values, according to a panel of four spokeswomen for the top Republican presidential campaigns. In other words, they want the same thing as their male counterparts.

The panel, organized by the National Review and held today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., discussed how each GOP candidate could appeal to women voters. But for a gathering of Romney/Giuliani/Thompson/McCain reps, they didn’t disagree on much. Instead, they turned most of their barbs toward Hillary Clinton. Barbara Comstock, a spokeswoman for Mitt Romney, chided Hillary’s campaign for “playing the gender card” after the last Democratic debate. Karen Hanretty, representing Fred Thompson, called the notion that women should automatically vote for Clinton “insulting.” And as for whether Hillary can get mileage out of her womanhood, the panelists were dubious. Just because she’s a woman “doesn’t mean you can’t have a tough discussion on the issues,” said Giuliani communications director Katie Levinson.

But they refused to go after each other or their men. Except for the occasional familiar sound bite—a reference to the “terrorists’ war on us,” say, or the “three-legged stool”—you could be forgiven for assuming they were backing the same candidate. Rather than talking about differences, they mostly discussed similarities. “I think we all support a market-driven approach” to health care, said Comstock. The need to fight Islamic extremists is “something our candidates all agree on,” said Hanretty. Levinson argued that the differences between the candidates are “minimal.”

It wasn’t until the end, when a questioner asked about abortion, that the women began to seriously disagree. As a senator, Thompson opposed the federal funding of abortion and as president would not sign the Freedom of Choice Act, Hanretty said. Romney would go a step further and veto the act, said Comstock. Giuliani’s spokeswoman emphasized the former mayor’s record as a “strict constructionist” and his support for adoptions over abortions. But even then, none of the panelists challenged each other, and the moderator, NR ’s Kate O’Beirne, didn’t press them.

It was actually amazing how little time the panelists spent discussing “women’s issues.” The reason, they would argue, is that there’s no such thing. Women care most about Iraq and national security. And on those issues, Hillary’s gender shouldn’t be an advantage or a disadvantage. As far as they’re concerned, the general election might as well be mano a mano .