The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Mitt Romney

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  | Category:  Mitt Romney
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Mitt Romney was unbelievably condescending toward Shannon O'Brien during that gubernatorial race. She was the one to lose the race though, cause she never came back on him for this.

Mitt Romney is condescending to women. You do not see this when he talks to men.

Posted by: lilbigmutha | December 6, 2007 6:05 AM

This is silly and shallow. It is like claiming an educated person who uses the word "Tar Baby" is being racist.

It is typical liberal Red Herring nonsense.

As far as "unbecoming" and Hillary, I wonder if she would rather be called "unbecoming" or cheated on and lied to and made to look a fool in front of the world by her husband?

A woman who complains about the word unbecoming are not qualified to be POTUS. What would she do when she is called the "Wet nurse of the great Satan" by the President of Iran?

I am a woman and I say Hillary may need to "Man Up" before the general election and stop playing the victim to men both in her home and against the aisle.

Posted by: jeengel | October 16, 2007 12:48 PM

This article does portray Mitt Romney as having respect for women but he has to be just as stern with heads of state and those running for President as he would with anyone else

Posted by: kag42891 | October 15, 2007 7:29 PM

Actually, the "historical record" shows us that Mitt Romney has the greatest respect for women--evidenced by his faithful 38-year marriage to the same woman. What better measure is needed than this?

Posted by: jared.conley | October 15, 2007 6:39 PM

Hillary is NO O'Brien. She is going to slam him and she will make sure that this flip-flopping "Massachusetts values" Mormon doesn't get elected POTUS.

Posted by: AmericanforPeace | October 15, 2007 6:02 PM

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