WASHINGTON (AP) -- When Jeb Bush said he wasn't sure the U.S. needs to spend "a half billion dollars for women's health issues," many viewed the remark as a gaffe and the Republican candidate for president rushed to clean it up.
A week later, it's all but forgotten -- thanks to billionaire businessman and realty TV star Donald Trump.
He cracked a joke during last week's Republican debate when asked about calling some women "fat pigs" and "disgusting animals," later said he couldn't remember using such words, and then attacked the popular female Fox News host who questioned his history of making such insults.
Amid a concern the Trump tsunami may be hurting the Republicans' standing with women, there is also a worry for Democrats who initially viewed his rhetoric as a net positive for their party. Some now fear his bluster has made others in the Republican field appear moderate by comparison and could affect the party's ability to maintain a hold on a voting bloc that's probably critical to winning the White House.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton's team has tried to emphasize the records of other Republican candidates in recent days, highlighting their opposition to abortion rights and their calls to defund women's health services offered by Planned Parenthood.
It hasn't been easy. At a Monday news conference in the state of New Hampshire, Clinton fielded seven questions about Trump, trying again and again to refocus the conversation on the anti-abortion platforms of other Republicans.
"What a lot of the men on that stage in that debate said was offensive. And I want people to understand, if you just focus on maybe the biggest showman on the stage, you lose the thread here," Clinton said.
"We'll let the Republicans go back and forth with each other, but I want to point out, there's really not that much difference in the policies they are proposing when it comes to women," she added.
Republican leaders acknowledged the need to improve the party's standing among women, who constituted 53 percent of the national electorate in 2012 and have favored Democrats in every presidential election in the last quarter century. Successful Republican candidates have won only by limiting Democrats' advantage with women.
President Barack Obama, for example, won women by 11 percentage points over Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, according to exit polls. The Republicans' last successful candidate, President George W. Bush, lost women by just 3 percentage points in 2004.
"While some people are excited by fat jokes and stupid jokes, I think there are a lot of people in the general election, independents as well as probably many of the women voters, who aren't really that entertained by this," said Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, also a senator.
Trump may have garnered the most attention, but several Republicans candidates have emphasized priorities that could alienate women in recent weeks, including escalating attacks on Planned Parenthood, a provider of health services to women in the U.S.
While such criticism is popular among conservative primary voters who are adamantly opposed to abortion, it's unclear how the argument will resonate in 2016 with independents and moderates, many women among them, who are likely to decide the general election.
In last week's debate, Rubio said he had never advocated for bans on abortion that include exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Polls suggest Rubio's position is out of line with the overwhelming majority of voters.
Heading into 2016, Republican officials hoped to feature women in prominent positions, in line with recommendations from a post-election report compiled by the Republican National Committee after Romney's loss to Obama.
Yet the Republicans' only female presidential candidate, former technology executive Carly Fiorina, did not qualify for the party's prime-time debate last week.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in Newark, New Jersey, contributed to this report.