CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misquoted Kellyanne Conway. The correct quote is: But Conway, 45, isn’t afraid to throw punches, referring to Christie Vilsack as “one trying to reclaim the last shards of feminism by peddling the contrived war on women when women are so economically vulnerable” and Graves as a “super-wealthy guy who’s going to pretend that he’s a proponent for and a friend of the poor.”
Political consultants Kellyanne Conway and Anna Greenberg were making small talk before a National Journal panel on politics this month when they realized they were going head-to-head in two different high-profile congressional races involving female candidates.
Before the two sat down for the Women 2020 panel that was broadcast on C-SPAN, it was discovered that Conway is the pollster for the reelection campaigns of Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Steve King, R-Iowa.
Greenberg? She’s working for Jim Graves, a first-time candidate taking on Bachmann, and for Christie Vilsack, wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is challenging King.
Both women hesitate to speak much about the campaigns in deference to their clients. But Conway, 45, isn’t afraid to throw punches, referring to Christie Vilsack as “one trying to reclaim the last shards of feminism by peddling the contrived war on women when women are so economically vulnerable” and Graves as a “super-wealthy guy who’s going to pretend that he’s a proponent for and a friend of the poor.”
When asked to respond to Conway’s comments, Greenberg simply says, “They’re both decent people who are running for office for the right reasons, and they both have a wealth of professional and personal experience to bring to Congress.”
The remarks characterize the different styles of the two consultants. Greenberg and Conway even have sharply contrasting hair colors, with Greenberg a brunette and Conway a blonde. But they also took different routes to polling—Greenberg came by way of academia and Conway through a legal career.
Greenberg taught at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and was a visiting scholar with the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. She planned on a career as a political scientist but become bored with books and research and entered the political realm 12 years ago.
Conway says that her law degree provides her with an objective credential in a city that “seems to have a fondness for gray heads and bald heads.” Her legal background, she says, helps her to think like a man and a professional. “Oftentimes women apply emotion in the workplace, and I found out very quickly in this male-dominated business that there’s no room for emotion,” Conway says. “However, the upside is, there’s plenty of room for passion.”
Of course, these aren’t the first hot congressional races for Conway and Greenberg.
Conway, founder and president of the firm known as the polling company inc., recently wrapped up a stint on Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. She’s also worked for the likes of former Vice President Dan Quayle, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the Heritage Foundation, and Lifetime Television.
At Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, the firm that her father, Stanley Greenberg, started, Greenberg has worked with such clients as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., and EMILY’s List.
It may be helpful to be a woman in politics in 2012. It seems that women have stolen the spotlight for the election amid rhetoric about the “war on women” that Conway refers to as contrived and phony. “The Democratic Party seems to only want to talk to women from the waist down,” Conway says. “As far as I can tell, most of their rhetoric is about conception and abortion.”
“There isn’t anyone on the Democratic side who thinks this is all that women care about,” Greenberg, 43, says. “Women are not a special-interest group, and they’re not a single-issue voter.” She maintains that the “war on women” is real, but that women feel the discussion is going in the wrong direction and that issues such as contraception, equal rights, and abortion were already settled.
According to Conway, the “war on women” term was coined to draw attention away from the nation’s economic problems. One thing the two can agree on is that the economy is the biggest concern for women.
Conway believes that women worry about the economy, jobs, neighborhood safety, and affordability. “Women are telling pollsters that life is increasingly unaffordable,” she says. “The conversation is not about enjoying the occasional luxury. It’s about affording daily consumables, like food and fuel.”
Greenberg says that what women care about has a lot to do with their role in the family. “It’s part of the way women experience the economy and the effects,” she says, noting that women are usually the ones who schedule the doctor visits and pay the bills, putting health care and economic concerns at the forefront.