ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Those comments of Sonja Eddings Brown about women, by the way, bring to mind a salient fact that turns up in poll after poll. The Romney-Ryan ticket would win this race in a walk but for one provision of the Constitution, the 19th Amendment. In 1920, it gave women the vote. Among male voters, the Republicans win. Among female voters, they lose. I sat down with the Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire to ask her about women and the GOP.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, welcome to the program.
SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE: Great to be with you. Thanks.
SIEGEL: I want to ask you about a recent and very typical poll number that we've seen. The most recent CBS News poll shows Governor Romney leading President Obama by nine points among men and President Obama leading Governor Romney by 10 points among women. Why? Why the gap with women? Why does Mitt Romney trail with women?
AYOTTE: Well, I think, actually, women - one of the things that is helpful about this convention and that's why I think Ann Romney's speech resonated is women do want to know about the whole person and something about the person that will lead the country. And I think this convention is an opportunity to see, not only - we know that Governor Romney's record - very capable as a private sector business individual, as a governor, at the Olympics - but to see some about who is the person? And nobody can do it better than Ann. And I was - it really resonate...
SIEGEL: But, Senator, I have a feeling if I said you would think differently once you heard my wife talk about me. That seems - it doesn't seem to be a very respectful remark about how women make up their minds politically.
AYOTTE: No. I don't think it's not respectful at all. I mean, first of all, I think women are interested in the same issues as men, meaning that the economy, jobs, they're worried about the future of the country, the debt. I mean, I'm a mother. That's what got me into this, thinking about what's the future for our children. So I don't diminish that at all when I think about it. But also the character of, you know, what is it that we know about this person and how will they conduct and implement their policies.
So when I say women, it's not diminishing that we're not focusing on the policy issues, but we are also focusing on the type of leadership qualities that are marked by your personal characteristics. And, you know, I think that's important to hear from the people that know him personally about these issues.
SIEGEL: In your state, in New Hampshire, the most recent WMUR Granite State University of New Hampshire poll showed that women favored Barack Obama by 16 points. But college-educated women favored him by 26 points. What do you make of that? How do you turn that around?
AYOTTE: I do think this will turn around. That as we look, as we go forward, there's a pretty large category of voters - my state, it's 40 percent independent - and they are really getting to know the candidates. And you think about President Obama. He's been in office. They've been able to see him very visibly looking and assess his record. And this - as we get closer to the election, you are going to see this gap close because where the strength is of Governor Romney is on the core issues of this election - jobs. With over 42 straight months of over 8 percent unemployment, people are worried.
SIEGEL: When the debate turns away from jobs and moves on to say, abortion or the remarks of Missouri Congressman Todd Akin. Does that hurt you with women?
AYOTTE: Well, let me put it this way, I think our party's been clear on this. I asked him to step aside.
SIEGEL: Congressman Akin, who's running for senator in Missouri.
AYOTTE: I did absolutely. Governor Romney asked him to step aside. Congressman Ryan did. The leader of the Senatorial Committee, John Cornyn, said we're not going to fund him. I mean he does not represent our viewpoint. You know, I believe that this is not an issue that Governor Romney showed leadership on it. He had disavowed the comments that I don't agree with and I know that many in my party - most don't.
SIEGEL: But the party platform, is actually on this issue, to the right of Governor Romney. It countenances no exception even for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, even though the candidate does.
AYOTTE: And I share Governor Romney's viewpoint. I'm pro-life but I support exceptions in the case of rape, incest and the life of the mother.
SIEGEL: Women are economically not as well off as men as a whole. I mean, they earn less money in the work place, so mothers...
AYOTTE: And they've been disproportionately hit really, if you look at the unemployment numbers.
SIEGEL: Why doesn't that explain the gender gap? Why wouldn't you think what's most different about women in the economy is they're worse off, and like other lower income groups they tend to vote Democratic these days.
AYOTTE: I don't think that explains it because you just talked to me about it earlier about college graduates. I think that, you know, women are very diverse in terms of their socio-economic backgrounds, but they want what we all want. We want a quality of life for ourselves and opportunities, and I think very much for children and for our families. So I don't think that there's one way you can categorize women as being, just because they may be overall as a group lower on the socio-economic because we're a very diverse group.
SIEGEL: Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire thank you very much for talking with us.
AYOTTE: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
That's my co-host, Robert Siegel, reporting this week from the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.