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Hill Women Play Starring Role in ‘Mommy Wars’

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
From left: Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, Dianne Feinstein and Patty Murray conduct a news conference to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on Wednesday.

Democratic and Republican women on Capitol Hill are increasingly squaring off as surrogates as the battle for women’s votes rages on the presidential campaign trail.

Republican women including Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) have become more prominent for the GOP and the campaign of presumptive nominee Mitt Romney in recent weeks, as they are deployed on conference calls, on cable networks, at press events in the Capitol and on Twitter amid the “mommy wars.”

Republicans are trying to narrow a persistent gender gap showing women prefer President Barack Obama by double digits, and the GOP women say they’re offended by Democratic charges that their party is engaged in a “war on women.”

“I feel compelled and I know other Republican women feel compelled to really expose the myth that there’s a war on women,” said McMorris Rodgers, a member of House Republican leadership. “It’s an effort to drive a political wedge in an election year.”

McMorris Rodgers dismissed Democratic attacks over issues like contraception or the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

“They are creating these distractions because they can’t run on their own record,” she said. “There is no disagreement over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. We are going to move forward in a bipartisan fashion like we always have. ... It’s a nonissue. The real issues are the ones that relate to health care and the economy and jobs and the debt, the terrible debt that this president is leaving for our children and grandchildren.”

And she said Democrats can’t assume women will be with them in the end.

“The women of this country voted Republican in 2010,” McMorris Rodgers said. “It could be argued that the women actually unelected the first woman Speaker of the House. They didn’t like the direction that the country was taking.”

She added that Republicans need to talk about the role women play in health care decisions — and their concerns about the federal government interfering with them — and noted that more women than ever are starting small businesses but becoming frustrated with tax and regulatory burdens.

Ayotte said it’s not hard for her to sell Romney’s position on the economy and the deficit to women.

“You think about the job losses women have sustained under this presidency, and Mitt Romney has the experience to know how the private sector works, to get people working again,” she said.

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