If a candidate’s spouse impacts how conservative women cast their votes, one outspoken Republican woman believes former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a clear edge over his closest contender Newt Gingrich.
Of the two front-runners, MSNBC commentator Megan McCain said in a Tuesday show appearance that Romney’s wife, Ann, is a personal campaign favorite.
“I think Ann Romney is quite likable,” said McCain.
Gingrich’s wife, Callista, meanwhile, shares her husband’s baggage when it comes to the campaign trail.
“I don’t find her terribly appealing,” McCain said. “And the fact that she is a mistress is not something that’s helpful.”
Indeed Gingrich and Callista’s relationship began while he was married to Marianne Ginther. She was a young staffer, and he had been married twice and divorced once. In 2000, Gingrich divorced Ginther and married Callista, now his third wife. She is now a constant fixture of the campaign, a fact that caused former staffers to complain.
McCain commented, "I think the fact that she was a third wife and a mistress and is coming off somewhat icy and her reputation of being somewhat controversial within their campaign is doing damage.”
McCain, the daughter of Arizona Sen. John McCain, has been a strong critic of Gingrich, alluding that he may be a “sexist” and accusing him of joining the GOP race to sell book and DVDs.
A November Gallup poll seemed to confirm that Gingrich has trouble connecting with Republican women.
The survey showed that Gingrich has the second largest gender gap in favorable ratings of all the Republican candidates (15 percentage points). While 50 percent of Republican men view Gingrich favorably, only 35 percent of Republican women hold the same view. The GOP candidate with the largest gender gap (24 percentage points) is Atlanta Businessman Herman Cain, who dropped out of the presidential race amid allegations of sexual harassment and a long-term affair.
By comparison, Republican women favor Romney by 3 percentage points. Thirty-eight percent of Republican women and 35 percent of GOP men favor the former Massachusetts governor.
Both Ann and Callista are fixtures on the campaign trail, making several appearances in person as well as on television as surrogates.
Callista arguably has done more heavy lifting on the trail than Ann, piecing Gingrich’s campaign back together when mass resignations and media allegations threatened their efforts over the summer, according Politico’s recently released e-book.
Still, the image of Romney and his wife battling health scares together as a family seems to have won over conservative women.
Political activist Nancy French described Ann Romney in her blog “Evangelicals for Mitt” as a vibrant woman who wowed the crowd at The American Conservative Union’s 2011 CPAC conference.
Meanwhile, Southern Baptist ethics expert and Christian Post Executive Editor Richard Land advised Gingrich in an open letter that conservative women would be a tough audience. While women pose a tough challenge to the campaign, Land conceded, there is hope for a recovery.
“If you want to get large numbers of evangelicals, particularly women, to vote for you, you must address the issue of your marital past in a way that allays the fears of Evangelical women,” he wrote.
Gingrich has approached the subject of his infidelities, noting that he sought forgiveness and converted to the Catholic faith. His most recent statement on the affair was in a letter to The Family Leader. In his pledge to defended marriage, he wrote “I also pledge to uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others.”
He has yet to offer a formal speech at a pro-family venue. Callista also has not issued an apology.
She has been described as a devout Catholic who still continues to regularly attend choir practice at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception despite the campaign.
Callista also told the Concord Monitor that she has become “even more spiritual” amid great challenges.