For Obama and his allies, Wednesday was a day to reprise attacks suggesting that Romney's history on equal-pay legislation, contraception access, and his own hiring practices "“ Romney's debate quip about "binders full of women" was mocked early and often "“ proved that his ascendancy to the White House would be a dark day for women. Romney and his allies, as they have throughout the campaign, countered that those subjects amounted to a distraction from the issue women actually care about, the economy, and the president's hazardous mismanagement of it.
It's an old argument in an election that has already featured fierce fights over insurance coverage for contraception and funding for Planned Parenthood. But it's taken on new urgency, given the approach of the election and the tightening of the gender gap in recent polls.
Romney's campaign released an ad pledging to support contraception access and abortion-rights in cases of rape, incest and if the life of the woman was threatened. The 30-second spot, which featured a lone woman speaking into the camera about how she researched Romney's real position on abortion, was evidently designed to correct the image of Romney, eagerly pushed by the Obama campaign, as a conservative culture warrior.
On a conference call with reporters, GOP officials implicitly rebuffed Democrats' mocking of Romney's "binders" gaffe, saying that the contest's "empty binder" was Obama's second-term agenda. The goal was clear-cut: Shift the debate from politically unfavorable topics like abortion rights and onto fertile ground like the economy.
"They don't want to talk about the issues that really matter to all voters," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. "All issues are women's issues. It's very diminishing that they only want to focus on a limited number of issue, as opposed to how are going to get people back to work, particularly women."
The Democrats, meanwhile, waged a more personal attack on Romney, suggesting that he evinced a condescension toward women during the debate. Jesse Mermell, who as former executive director of MassGAP, which helped Romney recruit women into his administration, said he showed a "50s Mad Men attitude" toward the opposite sex, highlighting his suggestion that companies will hire more women when the economy is booming.
"As if women aren't able to compete for jobs in competitive economy," Mermell told reporters on a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee, "that only when the economy is booming women will companies hire women."
The GOP's economic argument broadly resonates with all kinds of voters, women included. But Obama makes a more acute pitch to females, one rooted in issues of particular importance to women, and evidence shows that it holds greater appeal. A focus group of "Walmart moms" "“ broadly defined as middle-class women with children -- conducted during Tuesday's second presidential showdown showed many of the participants connecting better with the president than with Romney when Obama discussed maintaining access to contraception and mammograms.