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Women shone at GOP convention; now it's Democrats' turn


Getty Images, AP

Leading Republican women: From left, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.); South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Ann Romney, wife of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Just about every evening at the Republican National Convention turned out to be Ladies Night: Many of the most effective speakers were women.

Ann Romney, for example, outshone normally charismatic New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with a speech that showed her husband’s softer, more personal side – and she herself came off as a harried mother of five boys, rather than the woman who can afford thousand-dollar T-shirts.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez charged up the crowd with an emotional delivery about her family’s blue-collar background. She provided the party faithful with far more passion than the man she introduced, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. 

But neither Martinez nor Ryan could top the morning-after buzz that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice garnered for her measured, graceful speech about foreign policy – and growing up in the segregated South.

Not bad for a party struggling to woo women voters turned off by GOP stances on social issues.

As Republicans head home, Democrats are rolling out their own list of women rock stars on the roster for their convention beginning Monday. And the Democrats will likely embrace many of the socially taboo topics shunned by Republicans in an effort to show how President Obama differs from Republican challenger Mitt Romney when it comes to women’s issues.

For instance, abortion rights are likely to be front and center in the messages delivered by Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Nancy Keenan, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Republicans avoided the topic after the publicity disaster brought on by Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate” rape.

Longtime Obama friend Kamala Harris, the California attorney general, has been named one of the keynote speakers and is expected to deliver a fiery speech that will pump up the party faithful. That will be an easy job for another speaker, Caroline Kennedy, who is the closest thing either party has to political royalty. And of course, there will be first lady Michelle Obama, always a crowd favorite.

Other speakers include:

-- Lilly Ledbetter, whose workplace discrimination lawsuit led to a national law that addresses pay equity among men and women.

Rick Giase / EPA file

Sandra Fluke introduces President Barack Obama in Denver on Aug. 8.

-- Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who was called a "prostitute" and "slut" by Rush Limbaugh for advocating health insurance coverage for contraceptives.

-- Tammy Duckworth, the former assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs who lost both legs in combat and is now a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois.

-- Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, the former Obama adviser who helped created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

-- Actress Eva Longoria, co-chair of the Obama campaign.

Democrats can't take women voters for granted, because this year's economy may make it more difficult to convince those voters to show up at the polls, Susan Carroll, senior scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, told TODAY.com.

“It’s a matter of trying to rev up women. The Democrats want women to appreciate that there are things at stake for them in this election and they need them to turn out and vote,” Carroll said. “They need to convince women this is an important election, even though it’s not the hope and change election from last time.”

But Democrats will also have to be careful to avoid overselling themselves to women, particularly since they still have inroads to make with independent white men, said Barbara Trish, a political science professor at Grinnell College. Unlike door-to-door canvassing or telephone exchanges where messages can be tailored for the subject, the convention is one general audience.

“Playing a message too hard might not work here, even among women,” Trish told TODAY.com, particularly those “who can’t make their own choices because of their family structure, or their economic situation. So you can push it too far if they play the female voice too much.”

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