Christine Stuart photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy outside the Convention Center ballroom (Christine Stuart photo)

The women’s vote can make or break a Connecticut politician. History, shows that both male and female candidates ignore the gender gap at their peril.

It was the gender gap that largely cost Linda McMahon a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 and 2012.

And it’s the gender gap that’s keeping Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy even with one of his Republican opponents in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. The poll found that Malloy was doing better with women voters and that in a hypothetical match up, 45 percent would choose Malloy over Republican Tom Foley who received 37 percent of the female vote. But Foley did much better with male voters. An estimated 48 percent of men preferred the Republican over the Democrat.

Khalilah Brown-Dean, associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, said women make up a majority of voters in Connecticut and in general women are very organized and very issue focused.

“No party can afford to ignore women’s issues,” Brown-Dean said.

And Tuesday was all about women.

In the East Room of the White House, Democratic President Barack Obama called upon the Senate to pass the “Paycheck Fairness Act” and signed an executive order to create more pay transparency among federal contractors. He also signed a presidential memorandum directing the Labor Department to require contractors to provide data about employee compensation “so pay discrimination can be spotted more easily.”

“Equal Pay Day means that a woman has to work about this far into 2014 to earn what a man earned in 2013,” Obama said. “Think about that.”

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee issued a memo that stated that “all Republicans support equal pay for equal work.” The memo goes onto say that the “Paycheck Fairness Act” doesn’t provide paycheck fairness.

“In fact, it will cut flexibility in the work place for working moms and end merit pay that rewards good work — the very things that are important to us,” the memo states. It argues that the pay disparity Democrats so often cite is inaccurate because it doesn’t compare jobs in the same profession in order to come up with the data that shows women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

In Connecticut, according to a report commissioned by Malloy, women earn 22 to 24.2 percent less than their male counterparts. Even after controlling for things like education and skill level, women still earn 5 to 10 percent less than men, the November 2013 report concluded.

Malloy, who announced a few weeks ago he was running for re-election, marked the day by addressing around 1,600 women at the YWCA’s Eliminating Racism and Empowering Women luncheon at the Connecticut Convention Center.

At the luncheon, which was closed to the news media, Malloy mentioned that Connecticut was the first in the nation to pass a law increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

He said as far as pay equity is concerned, about 60 percent of minimum wage earners in Connecticut are women, which is disproportionate to their population size. He said it’s more evidence that pay equity is a problem in the state.

He said that when you combine the 2011 Earned Income Tax Credit with the minimum wage increase, “you’re talking about raising for a minimum wage family income by about $5,000.” The Earned Income Tax Credit puts a few hundred bucks back in the pockets of those who may not pay income taxes but are working and have a family.

“That’s very significant,” Malloy said. “And will raise tens of thousands of families over the next few years out of poverty in Connecticut.”

He said he’s trying to fix that by implementing the recommendations of the task force he created to address the issue. He said the Labor Department is in the process of implementing those recommendations.

“I think we can make real progress over the next three or four years,” Malloy said.

Foley, who is one of a handful of candidates seeking the Republican nomination, said the existence of a wage gap is unacceptable.

“Equal pay for equal work is a fairness issue, whether it is gender based or for any other reason,” Foley said. “It is simply unacceptable that there is a gender gap and as governor I will seek to eliminate it.”

Joe Visconti of West Hartford, another Republican candidate, said he wants to make sure his daughter and his sisters make as much money as they can.

He said human resource departments should be aware of equal pay and act appropriately. If they don’t and he finds out about it, he will be happy to raise the issue.

“I would happily make it an issue, where it needs to be an issue,” Visconti said.

Other Republican candidates for governor were not immediately available for comment.

Connecticut Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo released a statement thanking Connecticut’s Congressional delegation for their work on the issue.

“I am proud of the work Connecticut’s Congressional delegation is doing on our behalf to encourage policies that reflect the way we live today,” DiNardo said. “From their support of increasing the minimum wage, to their votes to help pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, they understand that equal pay is about more than just women’s rights. It’s about the economic security of our families.”

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro is a lead sponsor of the “Paycheck Fairness Act.”