It's Ladies' Night at the Democratic National Convention

From abortion rights to fair pay, the slate of speakers sought to consolidate and improve President Obama's edge among women.

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Reuters

If Mitt Romney and Republicans played up their feminine side last week in Tampa, Democrats on Tuesday were utterly and unabashedly feminist.

The opening night of the Democratic National Convention was a hard-edged appeal to women voters. Every poll-tested line of every speech and life's story seemed geared toward college-educated and suburban women, a group of Democratic-leaning swing votes. Obama needs to run up his margins among these women to offset Romney's enormous advantage with white men.

A week ago, Romney's team staged a warm-and-fuzzy appeal to women, a sentimental night filled with testimonials by the likes of first lady hopeful Ann Romney. Obama's team hit harder: Speaker after speaker challenged Republicans on birth control, abortion, education, fair pay, and other wedge issues aimed at women.

"Put simply, women in America cannot trust Mitt Romney," said Nancy Keenan, president of the NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The bluntest appeals came in the night's first five hours, which were broadcast on cable television only. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released during the early proceedings suggests that Obama's favorability rating among women has dropped 11 points since April to its lowest level since he took office.

Generally speaking, Obama has been holding his advantage among college-educated white women. Still, the ABC survey had to give the campaign pause.

Into this environment strode Michelle Obama and keynote speaker Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, whose speeches were televised by the major networks, as well as cable. In her prepared speech, she sought to connect with women by finding common ground:

  • "Like any mother" she worried about moving her children for a new job (OK, from Chicago to the White House).
  • Like any "exhausted mom," date-night is either a dinner or a movie because she can't stay awake for both.
  • Like any wife, "I love my husband even more than I did four years ago."
  • Like Ann Romney a week ago, the first lady tried to humanize her aloof husband. As a young man, he drove a rusted-out car, decorated his place with a coffee table from a dumpster, and sported too-small shoes. "And as I got to know Barack," she said, "I realized that even though he'd grown up all the way across the country, he'd been brought up just like me."

In other words, ladies, he grew up just like you.

In a mild departure from the traditional role of first ladies, she singled out policy accomplishments: fair pay for women, the auto bailout, health-care reform, and efforts to revive the economy.

Presented by

Ron Fournier is editorial director of National Journal.

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