Mitt Romney quickly and sharply condemned a remark by Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin, who suggested women are unlikely to become pregnant if they suffer “legitimate rape.”
But the controversy could hurt him anyway. Why? Because it reignites the “gender wars” in this campaign, highlighting positions that Republicans hold which are unpopular with key voting blocs.
Already, Democrats have noted that Paul Ryan, like Akin, has in the past said he opposes abortion and would not exempt women who suffer rape or incest. (The stance of the Romney-Ryan ticket is to allow such exemptions.) Liberals have revived the charge that Republicans want to wage a “war on women,” which they argued earlier this year amid the GOP’s opposition to requiring Catholic organizations to offer contraceptive coverage to their employees and push in states for legislation that would mandate women get an ultrasound before having an abortion. And polls show the majority of voters supports abortion rights, which is in part why Romney rarely discusses his opposition to abortion on the campaign trail.
Issues that particularly relate to gender are dangerous grounds for Republicans. One of the key blocks that will decide who wins this election are white women. (Minority women are overwhelmingly Democratic, while white men are the most Republican voting bloc, and Obama lost them by 16 points in 2008.) Obama won four years ago in part because he gained 46 percent of the votes of white women; Democrats earned only 39 percent of the white female vote in losing the 2010 elections.
That’s why Obama himself was eager to speak on this issue and attack Akin on Monday. And Romney distanced himself from the Missouri congressman in a way that he has not done with even the likes of Donald Trump.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr