What do women want? Specifically, what do conservative women want in a presidential candidate?
Minnesota’s Voices of Conservative Women will ask that question in a first-of-its-kind straw poll of presidential candidates aimed only at women. Voices, an advocacy group that works to elect conservative women at the state and local level, will partner with its older sister, Smart Girl Politics, based in Virginia, to conduct the straw poll at the third annual Smart Girl Summit in July 29 and 30 in St. Louis.
“We’re kind of excited because this is something that has never been done before,” according to Jennifer DeJournett, the Maple Grove woman who is the director of Voices. “Since 1980, women have outvoted men, off years and on years. But no one has asked women what they really want — it’s ridiculous.”
The presidential straw poll came out of what DeJournett calls “a little coffee powwow” at CPAC, the American Conservative Union’s annual conference, with the founders of Smart Girl Politics, an online network for conservative women across the country.
The two groups have similar political identities. Both stress fiscal issues, and they make little or no mention of social issues like abortion and gay rights.
“Number one topic — the deficit, always the deficit. We have to balance our budgets, why don’t they?” asks Teri Christoph, co-founder of Smart Girl. While Smart Girl also advocates on energy, nutrition and education issues, “it always come back to the money — the debt we are saddling our children with,” says Christoph.
Both groups are non-partisan, although Voices so far has endorsed only Republican women in Minnesota and Christoph of Smart Girl says Republicans Sara Palin and Michele Bachmann resonate with members of her organization. In fact, it was Palin’s run for vice president in 2008 that prompted Christoph, a self-described mommy-blogger, to focus on conservative politics. “We think, she [Palin] is a lot like us,” says Christoph.
“Us” would be young working and stay-at-home moms who make up much of the membership of Smart Girl and Voices. They have considerable political influence that the groups promote. “We will reach out to conservative women and encourage them to get involved,” according to the Smart Girl website. “We were formed to train and support the next generation of women leaders at ALL levels of government who support fiscal responsibility, limited government and free market principles!” states the Voices website.
“We really wanted to work [a straw poll] in 2010 and we know people are looking to 2012,” said Christoph. The women decided that with Smart Girl’s national reach and reputation and Voices on-the-ground election expertise, the Smart Girl 2011 summit would be the ideal location for a straw poll.
Around 300 women are expected at the July summit which is fortuitously timed to take place just two weeks before the Iowa presidential straw poll in August.
“We have every intention of inviting the conservatives who made noise that they are going to run for president,” Christoph says. With the audience and the timing, she expects most of the major candidates to make an appearance in St. Louis.
DeJournett says the straw poll will ask attendees for their first and second choices for a presidential candidate in 2012, as well asking them to rank important issues. Because Minnesota could have two candidates on the ballot, she says, “We will have an accounting firm count the ballots. We don’t want to touch the box.”
The groups believe that the results will be a key early indicator of who conservative women might support.
Christoph offer this tip for the contenders: “We are looking for someone to bring fresh ideas. Our ladies are new to politics. They want someone to talk plain, make it simple, and get it done.”