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 reelection 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 the crowded Democratic primary to succeed Lincoln Chafee, the Democratic incumbent who is not running for a second term. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas, there also are strong female candidates. Massachusetts’ attorney general, Martha Coakley, is trying to become the state’s first female governor elected in a general election.
Gender is not a central issue in theses contests, but the Democratic women are using their backgrounds to help distinguish themselves.
Several candidates interviewed said the real-world stresses of raising families help them connect with voters, while shaping their priorities on issues such as health care, education, and jobs. In some cases, they are up against male incumbents who elevated women’s issues by backing conservative social priorities on abortion, contraception, and ‘‘equal pay’’ legislation.
In Pennsylvania, Representative Allyson Schwartz, a Democrat, charges that the Republican governor, 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, 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.
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 US 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.