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Republicans Find Fresh Voice on Gender Issue

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers greets her son Cole, 4, at the beginning of Easter recess.

Republicans say Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) has a bright future in the House. An able messenger who brings diversity to the party’s public face, she has a good shot at becoming Conference chairwoman in the next Congress.

“She’s able to give a view that others have not been able to,” House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said.

But behind the scenes, her supporters are pushing for something bigger: the vice presidency. And for them, last week’s controversy over a Democratic operative’s swipe at Ann Romney, the wife of GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, allowed McMorris Rodgers to step into the spotlight as a Romney surrogate, providing her national exposure.

Quickly after Hilary Rosen, a managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, said on CNN last Wednesday that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life,” McMorris Rodgers slammed the comment, tweeting “Wrong. Being a mom is a full-time job.”

Just hours before Rosen’s comments ignited the Internet and social media worlds, the Romney campaign had sent out a release with the subject line “Cathy McMorris Rodgers: President Obama’s Policies Are Not Working For Women.”

Independent public polling has shown a wide gap between Romney and President Barack Obama among female voters. The timing of Rosen’s comments and the Romney campaign’s deployment of McMorris Rodgers, the lone woman among the GOP’s top House leaders, as a surrogate shows the currency of the issue.

Regarding the vice presidency, McMorris Rodgers, Romney’s campaign chairwoman in Washington state, said: “I’m really not expecting to get that phone call. I’m not seeking that phone call” and that it’s “just not on my radar screen.”

However, after National Journal’s Hotline left McMorris Rodgers off of its “Veepstakes Power Ratings,” the Hotline staff placed her as a “plausible alternative,” ranking her at No. 10. The Hotline staff explained that they “got a call from a McMorris Rodgers ally urging us to reconsider” after they first left her off of the list. Late last month, a mysterious email from dcpress2012@gmail.com to Washington, D.C., media, including Roll Call, boosted her as a vice presidential candidate.

“I think she is a smart and capable politician. It may make political sense to pick her,” said Terry Nelson, who served as the political director of the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign. Nelson cautioned that “we are so far off from a decision, and certainly the politics may change between now and then. There are also many issues that the Romney team will have to balance, and gender may end [up] looking less important than it does now.”

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