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Republicans in U.S. Congress try to be more 'sensitive' about women

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) calls on a reporter during a news conference at the Republican National Committee offices on Capitol
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) calls on a reporter during a news conference at the Republican National Committee offices on Capitol

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representative Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday he wants his fellow Republicans to be more "sensitive" as they seek to appeal to women voters in next year's congressional elections.

"I try to get them to be a little bit more sensitive," Boehner said at his weekly news conference, when asked what advice he was giving his fellow Republicans as they campaign against Democratic women candidates, and try to attract female voters.

"You know, when you look around the Congress, there are a lot more females in the Democrat caucus than there are in the Republican caucus. And some of our members just aren't as sensitive as they ought to be," he said.

There are 81 women members of the House, of whom 62 are Democrats, compared with 19 Republicans. In the Senate, 16 of the 20 women are Democrats and four are Republicans.

Thirty years ago, women voters were evenly distributed between the two parties, but their support for Republicans has dropped sharply, creating a gender gap that has benefited Democrats.

In the 2012 election, Democratic President Barack Obama was re-elected, Democrats kept their majority in the Senate and the party cut into the Republican majority in the House, largely due to support among women. Obama's backing was particularly strong among unmarried females, who gave him two-thirds of their votes.

Democrats have worked to portray their party as more supportive of issues important to women, from equal pay laws to access to birth control. In 2012, they were helped by Republican nominees for Senate seats in Indiana and Missouri who called pregnancy from rape something God intended and said women's bodies can ward off pregnancy after "legitimate rape."

Republican Party leaders hope to avoid a repeat in the November 2014 midterms, when all 435 seats in the House and 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate are up for grabs.

Boehner was asked if he thought the party was making progress in raising the sensitivity of its members.

"I do," he answered.

On another issue of inclusiveness, Boehner said he thought Republican campaign committees should support two openly gay Republicans who are running for House seats in Massachusetts and California.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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