Ann Romney Speech Pivotal to Close Gender Gap

Ann Romney’s prime-time address at the Republican National Convention is expected to be pivotal in her husband's efforts to close the gender gap with women.

Recent polls have shown President Barack Obama with a double-digit lead among female voters, and Democrats accuse the GOP of waging a "war on women."

Rep. Todd Akin's recent comments about abortion and "legitimate rape" -- though immediately condemned by Romney -- only complicated matters.

But Republican women argue the central issue is not reproductive rights but the economy.

“I think the economy is really going to drive how women vote, how everyone votes this year,” said Jeannemarie Davis, a former Virginia state senator from Fairfax County.

Virginia convention Delegate Erin Smith makes a similar case when she lobbies female friends to cast a Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ballot. She's single and runs her own financial planning business in Fairfax. While her job is stable, single women have suffered a higher rate of unemployment during the Obama administration, she said.

“I feel like the reproductive issues is so far down on what the important issues are in this election cycle, that my real focus is on the economy -- being a financial advisor working with so many who are concerned about paying bills and things like that -- it’s just not as much of an issue,” she said.

But political observers say Ann Romney’s speech can perhaps most importantly help to better connect her husband with women.

Now at American University, Anita McBride served as former first lady Laura Bush's chief of staff.

“I want to see how from her what is it about Mitt Romney that we should put our trust in the way that she has put hers and I think a spouse has a unique position to be able to do that,” said American University’s Anita McBride, who served as former first lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff. “They humanize the person.”

Women and all voters will also be evaluating Ann Romney, McBride said.

“They are a partnership,” she said. “She will be there with him if he is elected president of the United States in a visible role. She needs to tell us, too, a little bit about her, her roots, the strength and resilience of her roots, challenges she may have faced. She needs to connect with the American people as well.”

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