Female turnout critical in South Carolina primary

Polls: Gingrich ‘like a Yankee’ to Southern women

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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Now the women get their say.

Female voters generally turn out at a lower rate than men in Republican primaries, but not in South Carolina, where in past elections estimates say they have made up about half of the electorate — more than all but a few other states.

That could bode well for Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has done well among female voters in the first two contests and has a chance to build up his margins here.

It also could be bad news for Newt Gingrich, who polling suggests has a problem relating to, and winning over, South Carolina female voters, despite having done fine among them up north.

Gingrich is turning off Southern females all over the place,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist who lives in Richmond and said he has heard that from Southern women recently. “The worst insult any Southern female can offer anybody is describe them as being like a Yankee, and that phrase has come up more than one time in the last week with girls in the South. He’s behaving like a Yankee.”

Shery Smith finds her seat before Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks Monday at a CafeMom.com event at the Fresh Brewed Coffee & Music House in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

At the same event, a woman (right) listens to presidential candidate Rick Santorum. In past elections, women have accounted for about half of the electorate in South Carolina.

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Shery Smith finds her seat before Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks Monday ... more >

Mr. Gingrich made a well-publicized effort to reach out to women ahead of Iowa’s caucuses. He sat down for a chat sponsored by CafeMom.com, during which moderator Frank Luntz asked the former House speaker to recall his own mother, which caused Mr. Gingrich to begin weeping.

“I do policy much easier than I do personal,” Mr. Gingrich said.

That’s far from the case for Mr. Romney and another candidate, former Sen. Rick Santorum, both of whom won a higher percentage among women than men in Iowa and New Hampshire, and who poll better among women in South Carolina.

Women are key in South Carolina more than in almost any other Republican primary. In 2008, they made up 49 percent of those captured in exit polling in the GOP primary here, which is more than all but a few other states that cycle. Coming so early in the process, it offers female Republicans their best chance to influence the outcome.

Earlier this week, two other presidential candidates — Mr. Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — sat down with CafeMom in Myrtle Beach to try to win that demographic.

Mr. Santorum handled questions ranging from his views on contraception to his thoughts on stay-at-home moms.

He appeared alongside his wife Karen, a mother of seven, who recounted the tribulations of being on the campaign trail, including her basement flooding three times.

Mr. Perry also appeared with his wife, Anita.

“She’s the first girl I ever had a date with,” Mr. Perry said, drawing looks of disbelief from the mothers in the audience.

On the broader campaign trail, many candidates already are striking chords that resonate with women by making their pitches focused on the economy and creating an environment for more jobs.

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