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.
She cast them as family-friendly initiatives and then waded deep into the polarizing reproductive rights debate.
"(The president) believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care," she said. "That's what my husband stands for."
Keynote speaker Julian Castro spoke lovingly about his mother and grandmother before slapping Romney with the ultimate political insult: "Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn't get it." He suggested the adage applies to women's issues, as well as what's best for the middle class in general.
"When it comes to respecting women's rights, Mitt Romney says, 'No.' When it comes to letting people marry whomever they love, Mitt Romney says, 'No.' When it comes to expanding access to good health care, Mitt Romney says, 'No.'"
Obama addresses the convention Thursday night, but he appeared via videos Tuesday, touting himself as a champion of women's rights. In one, he bragged about signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that lowered barriers to equal pay for women and men.
The act's namesake reminded the crowd that women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar men make. "Those pennies add up to real money," Ledbetter said. "Maybe 23 cents doesn't sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island investments, and an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars. But Governor Romney, when we lose 23 cents every hour, every day, every paycheck, every job, over our entire lives, what we lose can't just be measured in dollars."