Romney and Women
Campaigning in Nevada over the weekend, Mitt Romney was asked a question on the minds of many Republican voters: if he were the GOP nominee and found himself running against Hillary Clinton, how would he go about attacking her given the political and social delicacies involved in going up against a woman opponent? In response, according to the the National Journal, Romney invoked his successful run against Shannon O'Brien in the 2002 gubernatorial race in Massachusetts, saying that he ran against O'Brien "as a person, not a woman," and he added, "I intend to do that again."
In fact, the historical record is a little less clear-cut on that score. The final week of the Romney-O'Brien race was consumed partly with a debate over whether Romney had taken a sexist tack in a televised debate with O'Brien, the state treasurer with a reputation as a smart and tough political insider, when he described her criticisms of him as "unbecoming." O'Brien and her supporters decried that as code language intended to undercut a strong woman. In one exchange in the debate, over O'Brien's citation of Romney's endorsement from a pro-life group in 1994, Romney said, "Your effort to continue to try and create fear and deception here is unbecoming." And deflecting her attack regarding Medicare fraud at a company whose board he served on, Romney said, "You know, the level of misrepresentation is just not becoming, Shannon. That's just wrong."
In the days following the debate, O'Brien charged that Romney "wouldn't use the word 'unbecoming' if he were speaking about a male opponent." Romney denied this vehemently. "Unbecoming, inappropriate, not the right way to be, I'm looking for the kind of word that says, when someone is doing something that is not in the kind of manners I would have expected," he said. "That's a word which I would apply to a man or to a woman."
The O'Brien camp tried to use outrage over Romney's choice of words to rally last-minute support, with Teresa Heinz, the philanthropist wife of John Kerry, telling a crowd of about 750 women at an O'Brien fundraiser that Romney would be surprised at how many "unbecoming women" had attended the event. Also weighing in at the fundraiser? None other than Hillary Clinton, who told the crowd, according to the Boston Globe, that once upon a time the ambitions of all women who wanted to run for office were written off as "unbecoming." The only thing that was unbecoming, she said to loud applause, were Romney's remarks.
The outrage only carried O'Brien so far, though. In a heavily Democratic state that has never elected a woman governor, she lost to Romney by a margin of 50 to 45 percent. And many of the race postmortems concluded that she had failed to figure out a way to attack Romney in a way that was, well, more becoming.
-- Alec MacGillis
Posted at 4:31 PM ET on Oct 15, 2007
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