Politics

Conservative women of Denver are tired of traditional campaigns

Conservative women of Denver are tired of traditional campaigns

Armed with pink protest placards and at least one baby strapped to her mom’s chest, a rowdy, ragtag team of conservative women made its way through the streets of Denver, Colo. to the state Capitol in May for a sign waving and car honking good time. Consider it a new media public service announcement for a constituency previously reluctant to engage in in-your-face political combat.

“Mothers in love with fracking,” read the sign of Amy Oliver Cooke, a local radio personality and founder of Mothers Against Debt. “I’m not Julia,” proclaimed several others, a reference to a recent campaign video popping up on President Obama’s campaign website, explaining how his “policies help one woman over her lifetime—and how Mitt Romney would change her story.”

At first glance, this boisterous band might appear to be the tea party reinventing itself after that group’s pro-freedom message got bogged down in its radicalized reputation. But these women were not seasoned tea partiers. For many of them, it was the first time they’ve jumped into the political arena. Their pitch is clear: engage women in the philosophy that they can live free from government, not just through government as a babysitter.

After several years of significant gains by liberal causes and candidates in the Rocky Mountain region’s once staunchly GOP stomping ground, could the prominent role of women in this campaign year finally reverse abysmal support for conservatives among women?

Media training

If Debbie Brown has her way, it will. Inside a nondescript building shaded by the Capitol’s dome just a few days earlier, 25 women gathered with Brown to have their headshots taken and to begin intense media training to prepare them to magnify their voices as irreverent, articulate and outspoken conservative bloggers as part of Brown’s Colorado Women’s Alliance.

As a Republican myself, I’ve found female-targeted campaign messaging to be incredibly patronizing. Brown gets it. “Women aren’t a target market to be used for political theater. Women are individuals—some are working professionals; others are stay-at-home moms [primarily] focused on the economy as their No. 1 issue and what it means to their businesses and families at the most personal level,” she said.

Notably missing from the training session was seasoned bloggette Kelly Maher, who was holed up nearby in her Capitol Hill loft, doing what she does best: recording one of her popular video blogs via computer webcam and preparing for her next appearance on a popular Denver radio show. She is an emerging national conservative voice aided by her striking blonde hair and six-foot stature (before her unapologetic four-inch heels).

With her fellow local notable—Guinness the Dog—perched on her lap, she preaches directly into her webcam a soliloquy peppered with humor certain to grate on the union opponents she often trails with her array of clandestine cameras.

During the past few years she has been at the gig, the results have been both meaningful and hilarious, including one date proposition from a political target who was unaware he had just been caught lying on her lapel pin video.

She has drawn the attention of national media, including CNN, which once followed her and her secret cameras around town with a camera of their own. She will soon head to Milwaukee to oversee the local team she has hired as a brand extension of her newest blog, playfully titled Revealing Politics.

Maher’s confidence recalls one of Marilyn Monroe’s best-ever quips, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.”

New web sites

The web sites and coalition gatherings are emotion-fueled but intellectually and factually articulate. Among the newest sites:

ParentLedReform.org, run by the Swedish-born successful author Karin Piper. Still in its infancy, the group has already championed major changes to union transparency rules.

AllMomsWorkHard.com, a site dedicated to defending stay-at-home moms in the aftermath of liberal attacks on presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Just a few weeks old, the site’s hot pink bumper stickers are already making their way onto cars across Denver.

• Transparency activist Natalie Menten posts state and local budgets and analysis on a site bearing her name. After successfully defeating a local grocery tax, she came up short in her own bid for office.

Beltway pundits have preached for years that the GOP cannot definitively reverse its tattered relationship with women without first finding a pitch that women will embrace. But traditional gender-targeted efforts by conservatives have failed, and here’s why. Poll after poll demonstrates that a female voter who votes “as a woman” is not going to vote for a conservative candidate simply because she is a woman or because he praises his small business-owning wife as the hardest working person he has ever known. She’ll go for the liberal almost every time. Throw in the liberal polemics of teachers’ and public employee unions (where women generally greatly outnumber men) and the challenge can appear insurmountable.

The feisty women of Denver seem to get this, tiring of traditional conservative campaigns that too often approach women somewhat mystified, with kid gloves and using terms like “women’s issues.”

While most of these women are Republicans, to discount them as partisans would be a mistake. They care less about party than they do about issues. Also notable, they aren’t angry—they are inspired and upset enough about the current state of affairs to vocally engage in the public debate. And you’ll know the tribe is coming by a distinct noise coming your way. Laughter. In spite of the serious issues they want to address, they do this all with a smile.

Time will tell if these women or their sisters elsewhere will be able to significantly impact the November elections. For now, however, they provide a fascinating case study in emerging political coalitions, channeling the vision of feminist godmother Gloria Steinem, who once defined a feminist as “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”

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