Click photo to enlarge
Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is greeted by her supporters during her campaign event on Friday Sept. 25, 2009 at SolarCity in Foster City. (Dai Sugano/Mercury News)

SACRAMENTO — Women's groups are taking issue with Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman for saying that raising her family was one reason she didn't vote for 28 years.

By saying she was "focused on raising a family, on my husband's career, and we moved many, many times" in explaining her nonvoting record, Whitman, the ex-CEO of eBay, is confirming a pre-feminist stereotype that politics is not the province of women, critics said.

"She's showing an antiquated view of stay-at-home moms," said Patty Bellasalma, president of California National Organization for Women. "That's just an absurdity. Part of raising your children is to teach them civics and their responsibilities as citizens."

Whitman's campaign insisted her comments were not meant to be seen as an explanation, pointing out that she added that her family situation was "no excuse. My voting record, my registration record, is unacceptable."

"Talk about absurdity," said Sarah Pompeii, a campaign spokeswoman, referring to Bellasalma's comment. "Accusing one of the world's most identified and successful woman executives of having an 'antiquated view' of a woman's role in society is not just ridiculous, it's offensive."

Women make up more than half the registered voters in the country and turn out for elections in greater numbers than men, said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Sacramento State.

"Many of us have busy lives and we all manage to register and vote," O'Connor said. "Women will view this comment as condescending. I don't find her explanation persuasive and I don't think others will, either."

A survey by the California Voter Foundation found that job hours were the biggest factor in what nonvoters and infrequent voters cited for their inability to get to the polls. Others said voting itself took too much time. A lack of child care was the least cited factor.

"It's possible for women to have more demands, and to have lives that make it harder to get to the polls," said Janis Hirohama, president of the California League of Women Voters. "It can be seen as just another thing they're supposed to fit on an overbilled plate."

Liz Froelich, president of the Northern Division of the California Federation of Republican Women, said she can't imagine family getting in the way of her political activities.

"When I was newly married with kids, I was walking precincts supporting Barry Goldwater," said Froelich, a Concord resident. "I have always found time to get into the political arena. I've always voted."

She said it was "hard for me to understand" Whitman's comment, "though I can't put myself in her position. It's a civic duty. It may have not been in her framework growing up. But, it was an awkward statement she made."

Colleen Jenkins-Sohlin, president of the Connecticut-based Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust, said she "grew up in a family where women fought all their lives to get the right to vote.

"Voting only takes 10 minutes," said Jenkins-Sohlin, who is the great-granddaughter of Stanton, who led 19th-century suffragist movements. "You can work. People can do multiple things in their lives. A woman can raise a family, register to vote and vote."

Reach Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101.