MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. What about the women? There are no women at the top of the presidential ticket this year from either major political party, but both campaigns are making women voters a priority, starting with Republican contender Mitt Romney's wife Ann in a high profile speech Tuesday night.
She talked about motherhood, marriage, and of course why her husband is the man for the nation's top job.
(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION ADDRESS)
ANN ROMNEY: I can't tell you what will happen over the next four years but I can only stand here tonight as a wife and a mother and a grandmother, an American, and make you this solemn commitment. This man will not fail.
MARTIN: Later in the program, we'll ask our diverse panel of women commentators to give their take on the big speech and other news from the convention, but we want to start today with another high profile newsmaker who's also trying to pump up the Republican Party's appeal to women. Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee represents the seventh district of Tennessee which includes parts of the suburbs of Nashville and Memphis.
But more importantly, she's co-chair of the platform committee along with Virginia governor Bob McDonnell. In that role she's helped mediate the internal conflicts of the party around divisive social issues. As well she's been an outspoken point person for the party as it navigates charges that her party is hostile and insensitive to women.
We caught up with her yesterday afternoon shortly before she was scheduled to address the convention delegates. And congresswoman Marsha Blackburn is with us now. Congresswoman, thank you so much for speaking with us.
REPRESENTATIVE MARSHA BLACKBURN: Oh, good to be with you. Thank you.
MARTIN: Could I just start by asking you what's the atmosphere there?
BLACKBURN: The atmosphere is one of anticipation and excitement.
MARTIN: And obviously one of the reasons that we wanted to speak with you is that the whole question of women voters, women's issues have become very much a part of our political conversation right now. And I did want to ask for your initial reaction to Mr. Todd Akin's comments suggesting that women can't actually be impregnated by rape and I wanted to ask if you think he's right or wrong.
BLACKBURN: Well, I found his comments to be disgusting and indefensible and I felt as if, and still feel, that he should step aside from that nomination. But here's the difference. When somebody pulls a Biden-ism in the Republican Party we generally address it and I think in the Democrat Party what you see is them step forward and try to defend that.
MARTIN: And a Biden-ism is what?
BLACKBURN: Well, the slip of the tongue that Joe Biden has on a frequent basis.
MARTIN: Was this a slip of the tongue or a point of view?
BLACKBURN: I don't know but when something like that is done I think that we address it, and most Republicans have disagreed with Mr. Akin and have spoken out to that effect.
MARTIN: And I think that it's pretty clear that one of the reasons that there is concern about this is that there is a concern that women, for more than 20 years now as a group of voters, have been trending toward the Democratic Party, the so-called gender gap. And of course, there's a gender gap on the male side too.
You can argue that, you know, males are trending toward the Republican Party. I just wanted to ask, given your background in politics, why do you think that is?
BLACKBURN: Well, and I think that Republicans don't do the job they should do in getting their message out to women and I think that this election is a good opportunity for us. Jobs and the economy are issue number one with female voters. We all know that more female voters classify themselves as independent rather than affiliating with one party or the other and I think this is an opportunity for us and it requires that we do a good job getting that message out.
Now, it is true that female voters have trended to the Democrat Party and I think that there is that gender gap for us there but you're exactly right. There is a male gender gap that President Obama and the Democrat candidates have and I think that some of the things that President Obama and Vice President Biden have said probably have not endeared themselves to men voters.
And I'm looking at this year as an opportunity for reaching out to female voters and talking about jobs and the economy. And I would encourage our nominee and our vice presidential nominee to do the same thing. To talk about...
MARTIN: Talk to me a little bit about what your - yeah, message is. That's what I was going to ask you next.
MARTIN: Is what would your message be? And I think you're particularly well positioned to do that, given that you are co-chair of the platform committee.
BLACKBURN: First thing, the Republican Party needs to pull forward some of these well-qualified, accomplished women who have been in the trenches for years and let them be the ones who carry that message. And the message that we have in our party platform, that we have in so many of our races where we are focused on getting this country back to work.
To getting rid of this 8 percent-plus unemployment that we have seen for 42 straight months. Female-owned businesses tell me all the time one of the chief problems they have is access to capital, and how you make more capital available for these female owned businesses. So those are all things that people are saying this is what we want the focus to be on.
Women of high school students. This year one of the biggest complaints we heard was there were no jobs, no summer jobs, and they wanted those students to be able to go to work and to be excited about going to work. And then young college graduates. Look at the numbers that are there.
Fifty percent are either un- or under-employed and having those opportunities for those young people. The Republican Party - GOP stands for great opportunity party, and that is a message that we should be very serious about communicating this year.
MARTIN: I'm speaking with congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. She represents the seventh congressional district of Tennessee. We caught up with her just before she was scheduled to speak on the floor of the Republican National Convention. We caught up with her in Tampa and you can hear all the hubbub around her. She's the co-chair of the platform committee and we caught up with her in advance of her scheduled remarks to the floor.
But speaking of that, congresswoman, as chair of the platform committee, the platform at least considered language congratulating states that have considered or adopted new measures that are, I think we can all agree, intended to discourage abortion. For example, one of them requiring vaginal probes in order to explain and describe the fetus to a person who's seeking abortion.
Aren't those the kinds of things that distract people from the core message? And that many women...
BLACKBURN: I think when you see...
MARTIN: ...even who agree with the party on other issues consider offensive, hostile, patronizing, etc?
BLACKBURN: I think when you see the platform you're going to see the hard language and the same language that we have had for several years.
MARTIN: So that language that we're talking about here, you don't believe that will be in it at the end of the day?
MARTIN: What about your outreach toward younger voters? And I think that the data shows that younger people, even those are self-identified as conservatives tend to have different views on some issues like same-sex marriage and things of that sort. How do you talk to these voters in a way that lets them know that they're welcome...
BLACKBURN: I have great conversations with them. Just like I do with my children who are 31 and 34. And it's important that we do that and the platform committee had younger voters and we had a very wide age range of delegates to the platform committee. And I think that it's important that we do hear from them.
MARTIN: But do you think that the platform represents the kind of inclusive party that allows the party to grow and incorporates the views of people who you need to grow the party in the future, not just to maintain it as it is?
BLACKBURN: I do indeed.
BLACKBURN: Because we've got some provisions. We have an entire section on the constitution. We have language in there for auditing the fed. We have language in there with looking systemically and long-term at this nation's debt and doing something about it. And that's one of the top issues with your voters that are under 30 years of age, is the nation's debt and out of control federal spending.
MARTIN: Congresswoman Blackburn, I couldn't help but notice that four years ago Mitt Romney was your first choice for president. Isn't that right? Talk to me, if you would, about why you think he is the best candidate. What do think his particular strengths are?
BLACKBURN: Yeah. I've known Mitt and Ann Romney for quite a period of time and what you're going to see in them is that they are a great team. That he has tremendous respect for her and for the job that she has done and the support that she has given him. When it comes to understanding the interface of the private and the public sector, Mitt Romney understands that. He has a track record of reaching across the aisle when he was governor of Massachusetts and making certain that he worked diligently with the Democrats in order to do what was best for the state.
MARTIN: And does it concern you at all, though, that an issue that came up throughout the primary season was that, as governor of Massachusetts, that, you know, Mitt Romney authored the Health Care Act in Massachusetts that the president says and that many people believe was his inspiration for the national Affordable Care Act, does that trouble you?
BLACKBURN: Well, you can look at TennCare that was there in Tennessee or Guaranteed Issue in New Jersey or the program there in Massachusetts and I think that what you see is that those programs are difficult and I think Mitt Romney is the guy who knows how to come back and repeal ObamaCare and replace it with patient-centered health care.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, you know, you've been widely mentioned as a rising star in the Republican Party. Do you envision yourself on that platform accepting your party's nomination for one of its top offices one day?
BLACKBURN: No. But I have to tell you, I think that the first female in the White House probably will be a Republican. I think that'd be a great thing.
MARTIN: Really? Why do you think that?
BLACKBURN: I just do. I think that...
MARTIN: Not that it wouldn't be a great thing because, obviously, you're a Republican. You think that that would be great. But why do you think that the first woman in the White House will be a Republican?
BLACKBURN: I think that people are so focused on conservatism and getting this nation's fiscal health back in order. We're in a deep hole with $16 trillion debt and that's the reason they're going to be looking to us this year.
MARTIN: We've been asking all of our guests to reflect on the question that we think really is at the core of both political parties' argument to the voters this year, which is what does a successful country look like? Can I ask you to entertain that question?
BLACKBURN: A successful country is one that has freedom, free markets and free people. It is one where people can dream big dreams and make those dreams come true, where the government doesn't get in their way of making those dreams come true. The American dream is known as the American dream and not the China dream or the Russian dream or some other dream because people know that here, if they've got a great idea, that they can pull the resources together and make that dream come true. And that is what people are wanting to see. That's what women are wanting to see, and I think that's why it's going to be a good year for our candidates.
MARTIN: Representative Marsha Blackburn represents the seventh congressional district of Tennessee. She was also co-chair of the platform committee and she was kind enough to join us. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
BLACKBURN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.