Since the president's campaign was ridiculed in May for "The Life of Julia," about a fictional character, it has turned to real women to root its ads in reality.
Live in Washington, D.C., Virginia, or a handful of other swing states? Watch television? Then there's a good chance you've seen "Jenni," the soft-spoken brunette starring in an ad attacking Republican Mitt Romney's anti-abortion position.
"I've never felt this way before but it's a scary time to be a woman," she says. "Mitt Romney is just so out of touch."
"Jenni" is her real name -- Jenni Gallagher. She is not an actress. Since Obama's campaign was ridiculed in May for Internet video called "The Life of Julia," about a fictional character who benefited from the administration's policies, it has turned to real women to root campaign spots in reality.
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Gallagher has an interesting backstory to tell. As recently as three years ago, when she miscarried at 16 weeks, she opposed abortion. Now the 36-year-old homemaker raising three young children in Blacksburg supports abortion rights and is volunteering for President Obama.
The reason for her change of heart? The law passed by the Republican-led Virginia Legislature last year requiring women seeking abortions to get ultrasound exams. The fiercely debated legislation became a centerpiece of the "war on women" that Democratic operatives contend is being waged by the Republican Party.
Some campaign strategists suspect the law signed by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell knocked him off the GOP vice-presidential short list. Romney never took a position on the ultrasound bill, but has said repeatedly that states should have the right to regulate abortion.
"I was a pro-life Democrat and didn't put much thought into it, but that bill just infuriated me," Gallagher said in a telephone interview with National Journal. "That they would force that on a woman, not because it was medically necessary -- but as an act of shame?"
Romney has also drawn stars for his commercials from the real world, most recently a New Hampshire business owner named Jack Gilchrist who accuses Obama of "demonizing" the business community.
Obama's ad is one of four campaign spots tailored to women that focus on abortion rights, Planned Parenthood funding, access to birth control, and equal pay. Winning women's votes is pivotal to the president's reelection because of his declining popularity with men. The Romney campaign -- also targeting female voters, though not as aggressively -- has scheduled "Women for Mitt" rallies this week in Charlottesville and Mechanicsville. At the "Women for Mitt'' kickoff last month in Ashburn, top female campaign surrogates ticked off statistics demonstrating how women have suffered economically under the Obama administration.
Gallagher, married 17 years to a veterinarian, said she stays at home with her children "because I don't trust anyone else to raise my kids." In her ad, a narrator points out that Romney opposes requiring employers to pay for insurance coverage for contraception, and he wants to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing most abortions. The spot also says Romney "backed a bill that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest," although the former Massachusetts governor wrote in 2005 that he supports those exceptions. Truth-squadding media outlets, from FactCheck.org to Politifact, have raised red flags.
"If I had a choice I would prefer to do a pro-Obama ad instead of an anti-Romney ad, because there are so many good things you could say about Obama," Gallagher said. "I believe he would win running on what he's done, and that's what I focus on when I interact with people."
All three stars of the Obama ads aimed at women are campaign volunteers. Dawn Ayres is a 46-year-old single mother and health education consultant in Columbus, Ohio. Unlike Gallagher, she has volunteered on campaigns before.
"I don't remember anyone as extreme as Romney," Ayres says in her ad, which criticizes him for opposing federal funding of Planned Parenthood and insurance coverage for birth control. "I think Mitt Romney would definitely drag us back."
Asked why she decided to participate in the ad, Ayres said, "I'm a woman and a mother. Women need to stand up and take notice of what is going on."
Her co-star in the spot is 46-year-old Alex Compton, who lives in Newark, Ohio, and works at Kenyon College. She's been married almost 17 years and has three kids, including a 7-year-old daughter.
"I feel like women who are my age and younger take a lot of things for granted because we always had access to birth control," Compton said. "I grew up assuming we had that right. And now someone wants to take that away?"
It was actually one-time Romney rival Rick Santorum who argued during the primary season that states had the right to ban contraception. When Romney was pressed repeatedly on that question during a debate, he said: "Contraception -- it's working just fine. Just leave it alone."
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