Democrats say Republicans are fighting a war on women. Republicans say Democrats are fighting a war on the GOP.
But in the war against the war against women, it’s conservative women’s voices that resonate. And when liberals attack conservatives for using women as tokens, they may undermine their own message, Republican strategists say.
In the latest battle over “war on women” rhetoric, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader under fire for his alleged “anti-women agenda,” drafted his wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, to defend his record on women’s issues.
“Have you ever noticed how some liberals feel entitled to speak on behalf of all women, as if every woman agrees with Barack Obama?” Chao says in an ad released Tuesday. “[Democratic challenger] Alison Lundergan Grimes’ gender-based attacks are desperate and false. … Alison, supporting the Obama agenda isn’t pro-woman, it’s anti-Kentucky.”
The 30-second spot – a response to a Grimes ad questioning McConnell’s two votes against the Violence Against Women Act and other votes “against enforcing equal pay for women” – also attempts to clarify McConnell’s position.
Not to be outdone, the Grimes camp issued a response later the same day:
“Simply saying, ‘I’m married to a woman’ doesn’t speak loud enough. [Sen. McConnell's] actions and record over 30 years in Washington indicate where and how you will stand up for women,” they said in a statement.
That’s where Grimes went wrong, Republican strategists say.
The statement’s emphasis on Chao’s role as a wife could leave the former labor secretary – and, by extension, women in general – feeling “insulted,” Kentucky Federation of Republican Women President Carol Rogers says.
Chao “is a very strong, accomplished women in her own right,” Rogers said in an interview with ABC News. “She needs to be insulted” by Grimes’ response.
Chao’s political prowess could lend credence to McConnell’s avowed support for women’s issues.
“Elaine Chao is not just Mitch McConnell’s wife; she’s a former cabinet secretary,” Katie Packer Gage, a Republican strategist with Burning Glass Consulting, said in an interview with ABC News.
“I think that it is always a useful thing for a candidate’s spouse to speak up if they tell you something about the candidate, more than just, ‘He’s a nice guy,’” Gage continued. “In this case, Elaine Chao is someone who’s so accomplished in her own right that [her support] says something about Mitch McConnell. It says that he respects and admires and encourages a women who’s strong, who’s independent, who’s got a career.”
Chao isn’t the first Republican woman to dispute the notion that woman should vote Democrat by default.
In her much-hyped spot, “Really?” Republican Michigan Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land mocks Democratic rhetoric.
“Congressman Gary Peters and his buddies want you to believe I’m waging a war on women. Really? … As a woman, I might know a little more about women than Gary Peters,” she says.
Around the country, Republican candidates – both men and women – are enlisting female supporters to prove that their policy positions appeal to women voters.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican running for governor against abortion-rights superstar Wendy Davis, recently released an ad featuring “Claire,” a young anti-abortion woman who said she survived an attempted late-term abortion.
“So often, politicians who do stand for abortion, they mean one choice, and they mean pro-abortion,” she says in the ad. “I’m so thankful for Greg Abbott and his stance on life.”