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Democrats work to raise number of female governors

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 23 2013 6:29 a.m. MST

In this Aug. 26, 2013, file photo, South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley announces her candidacy for a second term in Greenville, S.C. The Democratic Party claims to be the natural home for women, but the faces of the nation's governors tell another story. Democrats have just one female governor in their ranks. And the GOP, often accused of waging a "war on women," boasts four, an advantage that gives Republicans a powerful tool in the broader political fight to attract women voters.

Richard Shiro, Associated Press

NEW YORK — The Democratic Party claims to be the natural home for women. The numbers tell another story when it comes to the nation's governors.

Republicans, four women: Jan Brewer in Arizona, Susana Martinez in New Mexico, Mary Fallin in Oklahoma and Nikki Haley in South Carolina.

Democrats: Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire.

For the GOP, often accused of waging a "war on women," this advantage offers a powerful tool in the competition for female voters.

"We have to show the fact there is no war on women," said Haley, who is in her first term. "The more Republican women out there, the better our case is."

Democratic leaders, backed by national women's groups, are trying to turn it around in gubernatorial elections next fall that feature no less than six high-profile female candidates. Their goal is to give Hassan, who faces re-election in 2014, some company.

"My mother always used to say if you want something done, ask a busy woman," says Rhode Island's treasurer, Gina Raimondo, a 42-year-old mother of two young children who began her campaign last week. "People in Rhode Island want someone who's going to do something."

Raimondo is a leading contender in a crowded Democratic primary to succeed Lincoln Chafee, the Democratic incumbent who's not running for a second term.

In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, there also are strong female candidates.

Gender is not a central issue in theses contests, but the Democratic women are using their backgrounds to help distinguish themselves.

Several candidates interviewed by The Associated Press said that the real-world stresses of raising families help them connect with voters while shaping priorities on issues such as health care, education and jobs.

In some cases, they're up against male incumbents who elevated women's issues by backing conservative social priorities on abortion, contraception and "equal pay" legislation.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz charges that Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has "almost been dismissive of women," particularly on issues such as "access to family planning and reproductive rights."

Corbett has drawn criticism for cutting education, and like other Republican governors, he has supported legislation requiring women to get ultrasounds before having abortions. That idea never became law, but Corbett did say that women should close their eyes if they felt the procedure was too obtrusive.

"It is important for us in Pennsylvania to see a new and different kind of leadership that will move the state forward. It may well take a woman to do that," Schwartz told a recent gathering of Pennsylvania politicians in New York City. She's considered the early front-runner in the primary.

In state and national elections, women are a powerful voting bloc.

In presidential races, a Republican candidate has not won a majority of women since 1984. In the 2010 congressional elections, however, exit polls found that women voted for Republicans and Democrats almost evenly, helping to propel the GOP to the U.S. House majority.

Since then, Republicans have suffered from several self-inflicted wounds. For example, in 2012, Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri suggested that women's bodies could prevent impregnation in cases of "legitimate rape."

A report from the Republican National Committee this year detailed the scope of the problem. "Women are not a 'coalition.' They represent more than half the voting population in the country, and our inability to win their votes is losing us elections," it said.

Republicans such as South Carolina's Haley are in a unique position to balance damage done by party leaders elsewhere.

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