Centrist Women Tell of Disenchantment With Republicans
As baby showers go, the party Mary Russell attended to celebrate her niece’s first child was sweet, with about a dozen women offering congratulations over ice cream and cake.
But somewhere between the baby name game and the gifts, what had been light conversation took a sharp turn toward the personal and political — specifically, the battle over access to birth control and other women’s health issues that have sprung to life on the Republican campaign trail in recent weeks.
“We all agreed that this seemed like a throwback to 40 years ago,” said Ms. Russell, 57, a retired teacher from Iowa City who describes herself as an evangelical Christian and “old school” Republican of the moderate mold.
Until the baby shower, just two weeks ago, she had favored Mitt Romney for president.
Not anymore. She said she might vote for President Obama now. “I didn’t realize I had a strong viewpoint on this until these conversations,” Ms. Russell said. As for the Republican presidential candidates, she added: “If they’re going to decide on women’s reproductive issues, I’m not going to vote for any of them. Women’s reproduction is our own business.”
In Iowa, one of the crucial battlegrounds in the coming presidential election, and in other states, dozens of interviews in recent weeks have found that moderate Republican and independent women — one of the most important electoral swing groups — are disenchanted by the Republican focus on social issues like contraception and abortion in an election that, until recently, had been mostly dominated by the economy.
And in what appears to be an abrupt shift, some Republican-leaning women like Ms. Russell said they might switch sides and vote for Mr. Obama — if they turn out to vote at all.
The sudden return of the “culture wars” over the rights of women and their place in society has resulted, the women said, in a distinct change in mood in the past several weeks. That shift adds yet another element of uncertainty to a race that has been defined by unpredictability, at least for Republicans.
To what extent women feel alienated remains unclear: most interviews for this article were conducted from a randomly generated list of voters who had been surveyed in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, and their responses are anecdotal, not conclusive. But the latest comments from the Republican candidates and in the right-wing media, aimed at energizing the party’s conservative base, have been enraging to some women.