DENVER—A legislative aide at the Colorado House of Representatives and political consultant, a former options trader and Tea Party entrepreneur, a lifelong activist and community organizer, a local government transparency crusader, and a liberal-turned-conservative lawyer.
Two of them elected as national delegates from the state of Colorado by their fellow Republicans for two different GOP candidates, all of them women concerned about the 2012 election, and all of them aware of women’s unique impact on promoting conservative values and fighting against the loss of freedoms, not just to women, but all Americans, according to moderator Linda Hoover.
“This is really not about a ‘women’s agenda,’” Hoover opened. “We’re being sold a bill of goods, and we’re being asked if we want to let somebody buy our vote by [buying] contraception, while all the while our freedom of conscience is disappearing, our freedom of religion is being taken right out from under us,” she continued.
“We’ve got targets on our back.”
Targeted by pollsters, campaigns, database managers, get-out-the-vote efforts, and political advertising—the clearly non-monolithic bloc of women voters will hear quite a bit about themselves and what women want from a flurry of organizations with widely varying agendas.
But that will not be as important as “working block by block,” R Block Party co-founder Lori Horn said.
Horn, a lifelong political activist since the days of Senator Bill Armstrong, is a newly minted Romney delegate, elected at the GOP state assembly this past Saturday, and one of a half dozen “Romney slate” delegates chosen to travel to Tampa this August.
“We believe that grassroots activism is what is going to make the difference here [in Colorado],” said Horn, pointing especially to local races and local governmental appointments, which are quite often overlooked.
Individual women working collectively, Horn argued, will be able to promote conservative principles, and also return the Republican party’s visibility at events and in corners of the Denver metro area that have previously been ceded by conservatives in favor or more reliably Republican voting areas in the suburbs and elsewhere along the Front Range.
Nikki Mata, Horn’s co-founder, added that both women and men in conservative circles are seeking a more meaningful volunteerism than simply showing up at a campaign office.
“We educate and activate,” Mata said, giving people direct action items and connecting them directly to campaigns in need – not simply existing as a pro-GOP cheerleading group.
Nancy McKiernan, an options trader, became “energized” by former Gov. Sarah Palin’s message in 2008. Before launching her own Tea Party Brewing label of conservative merchandise, McKiernan found herself disgusted with the framing of Palin’s candidacy and role as both mother and politician by Democrats and the media, which she labeled a “disgrace.”
Now McKiernan finds herself on the way to Tampa as well, elected last Friday at the 1st Congressional District assembly as a Santorum/Paul unity slate candidate.
But she remains a committed individualist, charting her own path.
“I, unlike a lot of other women, am extremely independent, and I wanted to do my own thing,” said McKiernan, quickly dispelling the myth that even Republican or conservative women act and vote as a bloc.
Transparency activist Natalie Menten has also struck out on her own, finding herself returning again and again to local politics focused on issue campaigns, including the repeal of a grocery tax in Lakewood, Colorado.
While Menten began with painting “No to tourism tax” slogans on her vehicles to increase the reach of her message—“it was a better way to get the word out”—she has recently taken up the cause of using open records act legislation to pry open local government salaries and school board expenditures.
For Menten, transparency is an addiction.
“Spending every little available penny I can sneak out of our household budget to buy government records and put them out there [on her website],” Menten said to boisterous laughter from those in attendance. She posts her findings at nataliementen.com.
“Some of these things I just stumble upon, like many of us,” said Menten, referring to the various avenues of activism available to those concerned about government spending, property rights, and the activities of the state legislature.
The power of one activist, Menten said, is not usually visible until after the hard work is done.
“That’s what all of us have that within us to be able to do,” Menten offered.
Nissa Szabo, daughter of Rep. Libby Szabo (R-Arvada), formerly of the Starboard Group, has served two sessions as a legislative aide for the Colorado House of Representatives. As the youngest panelist, Szabo argued that finding a relevant issue for younger, unaffiliated, and especially women’s vote cannot be confined to cultural, or single issue arguments.
“It’s cool to be a Democrat, and I’m not sure why,” said Szabo.
The key in turning heads and changing minds, according to Szabo, means not buying into the way the left frames the issues, like contraception. “Reframing the argument—finding another issue that appeals, find another way to let them know ‘hey, you’ve got to look at how this affects you, your life, your family, every day,’” she said.
While Democrats have argued that the contraception controversy can be reduced to reproductive freedom, most of the panelists agreed that a bigger freedom was at stake—freedom of religion.
It was precisely this debate in 2010 that led to what Hoover called the “Ken Bucking” of the Republican U.S. Senate candidate that year. She called the contraception issue—part of the so-called Republican “war on women”—as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” attempting to distract from other issues, like the debt and unemployment.
“The most influential group with women is other women,” Hoover echoing comments made by Debbie Brown of the Colorado Women’s Alliance. “Talk, talk about it [contraception], and even if they don’t want to talk about it, you’ll make them think.”
Horn agreed that Republicans, and especially conservative women, have allowed Democrats to frame the arguments for too long, allowing them to devolve into sloganeering.
While Democrats try to churn up votes with a “war on women” message, Republicans can ask about real economic questions in a struggling economy.
“I want to talk about the real war on women,” Horn demanded. “Gas or groceries, that’s the real war on women. We have to feed our families. We have to decide whether we need to forego things because we need to put gas in our car,” said Horn, referring to stickers she has seen recently.
It’s clear, the panel said, that there is much work to be done. According to some recent polls, women still favor President Barack Obama over Romney, the potential GOP challenger in November. While there has been some push back against Democrats after a recent Democratic commentator was seen as attacking Romney’s wife, women remain divided.
And that divide is even more apparent among younger women voters, who tend to be unmarried and without children (married women with children tend to vote strongly Republican). A Pew poll analyzed by the Washington Post found that Obama holds a staggering 45-point advantage among women aged 18 to 29.
The panelists agreed that diverse viewpoints require diverse messaging.
“What does that [issue] look like for you,” Horn asked.
Personalize it. Customize it. In other words, individualize the conservative message. And stop thinking that all women—conservatives, liberals, or unaffiliateds—are alike, because they’re not, the panel agreed.