Three of the four GOP candidates for Colorado governor took part in a debate Tuesday that was meant to reassure women that Republicans have their best interests in mind. But if Republicans really want to debunk that there is any war on women, they might not want to start by talking about women as “ornamental” or voting as a dating game.
At the start of the “Women and Colorado’s Future” debate, the moderator explained that it would be like a dating game, where a panel of four women could interview the three “bachelors” — former Congressman Bob Beauprez, former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, and Secretary of State Scott Gessler. The fourth candidate, ex-congressman Tom Tancredo, did not attend.
The moderator invited the women to join the stage, saying, “It’s so much more ornamental if the four of you would be on the stage with the four of us.” Theme music from The Dating Game TV show played as the panelists took their seats.
It’s not so unusual for candidates to frame women’s political interests as a metaphor for dating. Both parties are guilty of it: In 2012, the Republican National Committee ran an ad urging women to “break up” with President Obama, while Obama’s campaign had Lena Dunham talk about her “first time” voting for “a great guy.” Republican strategist Alex Castellanos once noted on CNN after a presidential debate that women would not be “turned on” by the candidates. In that election, Republicans lost female voters by huge margins.
Yet little of the gubernatorial debate’s substance had anything to do with issues where Republicans have alienated women. Repbulicans typically find themselves on thin ice when discussing things like birth control, abortion bans, sexual assault prevention, equal pay, and maternity leave. Instead, there were questions about which women they admire (excluding their wives and mothers), creating jobs, and even about oil drilling. One of the panelists, Colorado Christian University faculty member Krista Kafer, said she resented “being appealed to under the belt.”
Gessler did acknowledge Republicans could change their “tone and tenor” when discussing women, possibly referencing the Todd Akin-like scandals of the GOP. “In recent years, the Republican Party has sometimes seemed disrespectful or harsh,” he said. “We can’t come off as judgmental.” In fact, Republicans who face female opponents for the midterms are getting coached in how not to offend them.
While Republicans in Congress and at the state level hope to change that image, they’ve botched that effort by working to restrict abortion and contraception and to block economic issues like the minimum wage raise and equal pay, which directly concern women.
In Colorado, these issues are more salient than ever. When it comes to the economy, none of the gubernatorial candidates mentioned that Colorado women now only earn 78 percent of what men earn in the state, five percentage points lower than they did in 2007.