Romney's "binders full of women" line, an awkward phrasing that inspired reams of mockery on the Internet, wasn't changing any minds among the women I spoke to. Democratic partisans saw it as more evidence Romney was out of touch; Republican partisans saw it as of a piece with his business background. "Anyone who's ever been a professional, ever, knows that's how you get resumes: in a binder,"43-year-old Republican stay-at-home mother Michele Moss said, rolling her eyes. Only someone who'd never been in the business world -- like Obama -- would fail to understand that.
The "binders" line didn't register at all among the undecided women. Nor did anyone mention the Virginia legislature's controversial move to require women seeking abortions to get ultrasounds, including invasive ones in some cases. When it happened, Democrats were sure the bill, which passed the state house but was watered down after Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell pulled his support, was their permanent ticket to the women's vote. But now, outside of Obama rallies, it seems largely forgotten.
Neither does Obama's trumpeting of his work to ensure equal pay necessarily resonate. A couple of months ago, someone called Dee Ralls, a 49-year-old parole and probation worker for the state, at her house to ask about her vote. She said she wasn't planning to vote for Obama, and the next thing she knew, there was a canvasser at her door, giving a big speech about equal pay for women.
"I said, 'I never had that problem,'" said Ralls, a heavily made-up blonde in a white peasant blouse and peace-sign earrings. "If anything, the reason I was discriminated against was because I was white."
Before her second husband died of a heart attack, for which Ralls received a malpractice settlement, she got pregnant for the fourth time. With three young kids, the timing wasn't right. She got an abortion, but at the clinic, she was shocked and irritated by all the "slutty people" she saw, who didn't seem to be taking the procedure seriously.
Ralls doesn't think about politics much -- she doesn't think it affects her. "Oh, but you know, here's something," she said. Her 23-year-old son was just about to age out of her health insurance when Obama's health-care reform extended the time she could keep him covered, she recalled. "That was a good thing," she said. Plus, her boyfriend says Romney's an idiot, "and he's pretty smart." Ralls is pretty sure she'll vote for Obama.
At the high school where she teaches math, 42-year-old Christina Prishack is one of just two Republicans she knows about. But she's always been a Republican. Her parents were Republicans. As soon as she was old enough to vote, she started voting a straight Republican ticket. Now, she's undecided for the first time in her life.
"I was in the Young Republicans in college," Prishack said. Her 11-year-old son, looking bigger than his age in his purple-and-white padded uniform, was practicing football under the lights. "I used to be very right-wing on abortion, taxes, everything. As I've gotten older I've shifted toward the middle."