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What Mitt Romney should be saying to women voters this Mother's Day

Polls show Mitt Romney trailing President Obama among women voters. This Mother's Day, to close the gender gap Romney will need to do more than flag Obama's failed economic record. He needs to push policies that appeal to women, like more workplace flexibility and better child care.

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Policies that encourage telework, compressed workweeks, alternative work schedules, job shares, and reduced work hours such as incentives to industry, awards for best practices and modest tweaking of the Fair Labor Standards Act, could make a difference.

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If Romney even just talked around Mother’s Day about appreciating the work-life challenges many women face he would likely get the attention of and boost his appeal with women voters.

Secondly, beyond workplace flexibility, Romney should talk about the struggles working women and families face finding affordable, quality child care. Child care is a major expense for most American dual-earner families with young children. In the vast majority of states, the average cost of infant child care exceeds the cost of annual in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges.

Romney could follow the example of President George H.W. Bush and consider how the tax code and vouchers can support families trying to afford child care. Mr. Bush campaigned in 1988 for child tax credits to help low income families with children and signed the main federal child-care support program, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, into law in 1990.

Moreover, as research continues to show the importance of the earliest years in life to brain development, the quality of the care children receive matters. However, most states lack standards such as licensing requirements, inspections, and background checks to ensure that children are being cared for in safe, effective, and enriching settings. Because Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina has introduced legislation to address some of these quality issues, Romney would have cover with his base to talk about improving the quality of child care in the United States.

The general election campaign has begun and the next few weeks and months will be critical in shaping how voters view the candidates. To win, Romney must close the gender gap with his opponent. He needs to offer an effective critique of Obama that appeals specifically to women voters, but Romney also needs a positive agenda that addresses the needs and concerns of American women. A combination of pocketbook issues and social polices could help.

David Gray is director of the Workforce and Family Program at the New America Foundation.

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