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Women's Issues, Weather Crowd GOP Message

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison dismissed Democrats' charges that the GOP has engaged in a "war on women," despite polls that show her party and presumptive presidential candidate are lagging among female voters.

On the cusp of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Republicans are seeking to focus on the economy, but instead abortion, women's health issues and even the weather dominated the narrative.

The recent comments of Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), continued to dog the party. Akin, who opposes abortion rights including for victims of rape and incest, said last Sunday that women who are victims of "legitimate rape" have biological defenses against pregnancy. After a firestorm of controversy and calls for him to drop out of the race from all echelons of the Republican establishment, Akin apologized for the remarks, which have no basis in science. He has vowed, however, to stay in the race.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that he worried Akin could cost his party control of the Senate. "I think he should get out of the race," Priebus said, adding that Akin's comments were "biologically stupid."

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.,) put an exclamation point on the GOP establishment's feelings on Akin. "He would not be welcomed by Republicans in the United States Senate," the GOP's 2008 presidential standard-bearer said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Seeking to strike an inclusive tone within the GOP, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) said her party, despite its drafted platform language that favors a ban on abortions, is open to people who see the issue differently. "Mothers and daughters can disagree on abortion," she said. "If you want to be a Republican, we welcome you."

But on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, chairman of the GOP platform committee, said the party's plank affirms that Republicans are the "pro-life party."

"I don't think it's any surprise that the Republican Party is the party that embraces the dignity and sanctity of life," McDonnell said.

As for whether the party platform offers exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape, McDonnell said it did not get into those exceptions and that those details would be left up to Congress and the states to sort out. "The real point is we are affirming we are pro-life," he said.

It is an issue that Democrats are not likely to let go, particularly as they attempt to exploit the gender gap between the two presidential nominees.

McDonnell added that the focus on such specific issues as abortion was an attempt by the Obama administration to take the spotlight away from jobs and the economy.

On that, he and Hutchison could agree. She dismissed Democrats' charges that the GOP has engaged in a "war on women," even though polls show that the party generally and its presumptive presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, in particular, are lagging among female voters.

"Women are looking at the issues they care about, which are jobs and economic prosperity," Hutchison said.

Rep. Donna Edwards said on ABC's "This Week" that the Akin dustup had put Republicans in a difficult spot because his position against abortion even in cases of rape is in line with the party's platform. "Republicans want to run away from Akin, but they actually can't run away from a party and platform ... that has not been supportive of women in any case," the Maryland Democrat said.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who chairs the Democratic National Committee, was quick to point out that Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the GOP's vice presidential nominee-in-waiting, has co-sponsored abortion legislation with Akin that sought to differentiate "forcible rape" from other rapes and that their positions on abortion were similar.

Even Romney found himself weighing in on the women's health debate. In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Romney said his health care law passed when he was governor of Massachusetts shows that he's a proponent of women's health care.

"I'm the guy who was able to get the health care for all the women and men for my state," Romney said in the interview with Chris Wallace.

Republicans also challenged recent polls that show Hispanics prefer the president to Romney. Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that more Latino voters will move toward Romney after they learn more about him. "Mitt's still at the early stages of getting known by our community," Cardenas said, referring to the GOP candidate as a "great family guy."

He added that Democrats do better with Latino voters because they run "segregated campaigns" that target specific populations. "Dividing Americans for the sake of political gain is a horrible way to go," he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the election will come down to whether Americans believe that Obama has delivered on his promises of four years ago, and he predicted a Romney victory in November. "Things have not gotten better for millions of Americans," Rubio said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

The weather in Rubio's home state also became a top story for the convention. Tropical Storm Isaac, which weather forecasters predict could make landfall potentially as a Category 2 hurricane, appeared headed for the Gulf Coast. Though Tampa is not likely to receive a direct hit, expected heavy rains and winds could make for dangerous or unpleasant commutes for convention delegates.

Republicans announced Saturday that they would cancel convention activities planned for Monday and would fit in most of the speakers and official activities, including a roll-call vote, later in the week.

Saying she sympathized with Priebus and Republican planners on having to account for the weather in her home state's "Hurricane Alley," Wasserman Schultz said on NBC, "We made plans, and God laughed."

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