Will Bad Press Hurt Romney With Women?

Richard Mourdock; Mitt Romney; Gloria Allred (Getty Images)
Richard Mourdock; Mitt Romney; Gloria Allred (Getty Images)

Updated Thursday, 1:58 p.m. ET, October 25: Mitt Romney's testimony in the Stemberg divorce case has been unsealed, according to the Boston Globe. Information on the nature of his testimony is not yet available.


(The Root) — After experiencing one of the best weeks of his campaign following the first presidential debate, which pundits universally declared to be a decisive win for him, Mitt Romney is now experiencing one of the most tumultuous weeks of his campaign. After his disappointing performance in the third and final presidential debate on foreign policy, the Romney campaign has had to grapple with two potential "October surprises" in the closing days before the election.


Gloria Allred, an attorney best known for her involvement in high-profile cases, among them representing women involved in the Tiger Woods scandal, is representing Maureen Stemberg Sullivan, the ex-wife of Tom Stemberg, the Staples mogul and Romney campaign supporter. On Tuesday Sullivan, with Allred by her side, appeared in court in support of the Boston Globe's efforts to "lift an impoundment order on Romney's testimony" in the Stemberg's acrimonious and lengthy divorce dispute. According to reports, Romney, a close friend of Stemberg and whose company Bain Capital was an early investor in Staples, provided testimony about Stemberg's finances.

A judge will be holding a hearing on Thursday to decide whether or not to unseal Romney's testimony, while Romney's legal team requested additional time to wade through pertinent documents. Romney's lawyer has said he does not anticipate objecting, though he wants to review the entire transcript.

A number of unsubstantiated rumors are flying around cyberspace regarding the nature of Romney's testimony and how it ultimately affected the outcome of the Stemberg's divorce settlement details. There is a potential real danger for the Romney campaign, particularly in the timing of the allegations. They come on the heels of an even more potentially significant "October surprise," one that some pundits are theorizing could have an impact on the outcome on Election Day.

Since Tuesday the Romney campaign has been in full crisis mode following Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's remarks about rape and abortion in a debate. Mourdock said, "The only exception I have to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."


Romney had not only recently endorsed Mourdock but had also filmed an ad in support of the Tea Party-backed candidate, who has struggled to reach moderate voters. While the Romney campaign has said the governor disagrees with Mourdock's comments, it has declined to pull the ad, something that DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz said during a Wednesday conference call is indicative of the national GOP's embrace of extremist positions on women's health issues. 

Mourdock's comments are not the first of the campaign that reinforce the notion that the GOP has become more extremist on women's issues — or, as Democrats have argued, is waging a "war on women." Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, who is running for the Senate, caused a national controversy when he said in a televised interview, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."


Because of Akin's remarks, a Senate seat that was predicted to flip from Democratic to Republican is now much less likely to do so. There are parallels in Indiana. Mourdock defeated long-serving Sen. Dick Lugar, who was widely respected for his bipartisanship, something that played a factor in his primary loss.

Now a seat that Republicans had anticipated staying in GOP hands is leaning Democratic, according to polls, and this was before Mourdock's remarks. But of course, the real question has become whether Mourdock has not only fatally wounded his own campaign but also damaged Romney's.


After the first presidential debate, Romney had finally begun to close the gap with women voters, with whom President Obama has enjoyed a significant lead. But after the "binders full of women" gaffe of the second presidential debate, which took on a life of its own in cyberspace, and now with the Mourdock controversy, the Romney campaign could take a hit in the polls with female voters.

This is particularly so since any discussion of Mourdock dredges up a campaign reality the Romney campaign would rather ignore: that his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, agrees in his personal views with Mourdock's position on abortion: that there should be no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. The last thing Romney needs is yet another controversy to give female voters pause.


Should the governor be perceived as somehow affecting a vulnerable woman during a divorce (there are reports that Mrs. Stemberg had been battling cancer at the time of the couple's split), the perception could prove a permanent setback for the Romney campaign with female voters, with so little time left between now and Election Day. 

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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