Can Romney Woo Suburban Women in Illinois and Beyond?


Looking past today's primary, his ability to attract and sustain Republican women's votes might make or break him in the general election.

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The GOP's latest "critical" primary plays out Tuesday near the data-devouring, logarithm-filled monster known as the Obama reelection headquarters in Chicago. If only the info-goliath would share with us everything its overseers will know about Mitt's women in Illinois.

The young software-fueled empiricists who've been lured from Silicon Valley and elsewhere know everything about their own target audience: where they are, what websites they consume, their favorite cable-TV shows, for whom they've voted in recent elections, and perhaps even what they had for breakfast yesterday.

No target group will be more worthy of attention and analysis than women, especially the Taekwondo Moms of the Chicago suburbs. Who these women -- the updated version of the car-pooling soccer moms of yesteryear -- choose will have a huge impact in the general election, especially if Romney can lessen the president's seemingly natural advantage.

Much recent polling suggests that those women have distinct concerns about the economy, as well they should. Gas prices are already closer to $5 than $4 a gallon in many places around Chicago, unemployment is more than 9 percent (above the national average), and fears about the affordability of college for their kids are easy to find.

As a result, there would appear to be a distinct opening for Romney, assuming he wins the GOP nomination and the general election evolves into a de facto referendum on the president. If that economic angst prevails, he can exploit it.

It's why Romney will probably do well Tuesday with at least those self-identified Republican female voters. That is especially so given how he's been outspending chief rival Rick Santorum in Illinois by what is probably closer to 9-1 or even 10-1, than the oft-mentioned 7-1.

In a campaign where retail politics means little, and in a state where the Republican Party is weak and without a very effective organization, television advertising takes on more importance. And Romney has been omnipresent on the air statewide, including in the expensive Chicago TV market where there's been virtually no sign of paid ads by either Santorum or Newt Gingrich.

For sure, GOP women in Illinois aren't any different than the GOP men who have told pollsters they are nonplussed by their party's presidential alternatives. In polling for Chicago's Fox affiliate, 47 percent said they didn't like their choices. Of that chagrined group, the largest segment is self-described Romney voters.

But they may be leaning toward him in a very soft way, suggesting that he'll have to shore up their support in a general campaign while he must perform appreciably better among the independent females who might make or break the election.

My own unscientific survey of Chicago women suggests most see Romney as a good and honest man, a good husband, and probably a fine father and grandfather.

But then it gets complicated, with some still seeing him as a bit uncaring and perhaps a bit too focused on his own self-promotion. Some of the women who are on the fence or just plain dubious aren't necessarily in agreement that the auto industry should have been compelled to go bust. They don't necessarily think the foreclosure market should hit rock bottom. Or that Rush Limbaugh was in bounds in calling Sandra Fluke a slut. Or that Planned Parenthood should be on a hit list.

Romney may exit the president's home state, which Republicans have no chance of winning in November, as top GOP dog (even if not necessarily strapped to the roof of a Cadillac). But even in victory, it may be clear how much work he's got cut out for him when it comes to many moderate Republican and independent females -- especially since the info-goliath at Obama headquarters will likely possess all the specifics as it seeks their November loyalty.

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James Warren is the Chicago editor of the Daily Beast/Newsweek and an MSNBC analyst. He's former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune. More

James Warren is a former manager, editor and Washington bureau chief of The Chicago Tribune. An ink-stained wretch, he's labored at The Newark Star-Ledger, The Chicago Sun-Times, and the Tribune in a variety of positions, including financial reporter, legal affairs reporter-columnist, labor writer, media writer-columnist and features editor. The Washingtonian once tagged him one of the town's 50 most influential journalists (he thinks he was 46, the number worn by Andy Pettitte, a pitcher for his beloved New York Yankees). He's a political analyst for MSNBC. He was recently publisher and president of the Chicago Reader, and is now policy columnist for Business Week and twice-a-week Chicago columnist for The New York Times (you can find his handiwork on the paper's website and on new Chicago pages produced for Friday's and Sunday's Midwest print editions by the nonprofit Chicago News Cooperative, which he held to start). A native New Yorker, he's a happy resident of the wonderful, if ethically challenged, City of Chicago, where he lives just north of decaying Wrigley Field with his Pulitzer Prize-winning wife, Cornelia, and their sons, Blair and Eliot. Blair's t-ball team is, yes, the Yankees.

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