Mitt Romney, President Obama woo women (politically speaking)

President Obama enjoys a clear gender gap in key swing states, especially among younger women. Romney is fighting back with an emphasis on how women are doing economically.

Tom Gannam/Reuters
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney smiles as his wife Ann leaves the stage at the Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in St. Louis Friday.

War on women … Mommy wars … gender gap.

At this point in the presidential race between incumbent Barack Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, the focus is on two men arguing about women – how to woo them (politically speaking), who best represents their particular interests, which first lady reflects today’s American woman.

The gender gap is real, especially in the top swing states, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, amounting to “a huge shift of women” to Obama’s side. (Swing states surveyed were Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, NevadaNew HampshireNew MexicoNorth Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.)

One can argue that both men face a gender gap. Romney leads among men by a single point, but Obama leads among women by 18, according to the poll. While Romney led overall by two percentage points a month ago in those states, Obama now leads by nine (51-42).

The biggest reason for the shift? Women under 50, who now prefer Obama 2-1 in swing states.

Opinion: How GOP can win more women voters

It’s probably no coincidence that these results come just after Republicans (and Romney to some extent) stumbled over contraception.

Romney himself said he wanted to “get rid” of Planned Parenthood, the major provider of reproductive health services in the United States. But then he had to walk that back, saying he just wanted to end federal funding of the organization. (Although critics tie Planned Parenthood to abortion, the organization says just 3 percent of its services involve ending pregnancies.)

Romney would like to change the subject from reproductive health care to the economy.

“The real war on women is being waged by the president’s failed economic policies,” he told supporters in Connecticut this past week. “The percentage of jobs lost by women in the president’s three, three and a half years, 92.3 percent of all the jobs lost during the Obama years have been lost by women. Ninety-two point three percent!”

That’s a debatable assertion. PolitiFact calls it “mostly false.”

“The numbers are accurate but quite misleading,” PolitiFact reported. “First, Obama cannot be held entirely accountable for the employment picture on the day he took office, just as he could not be given credit if times had been booming. Second, by choosing figures from January 2009, months into the recession, the statement ignored the millions of jobs lost before then, when most of the job loss fell on men. In every recession, men are the first to take the hit, followed by women. It's a historical pattern … not an effect of Obama's policies.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner puts it more bluntly.

"It's misleading and ridiculous," Mr. Geithner said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "It's a meaningless way to look at the basic contours of the economy in that period of time, because it starts artificially at a time when the President came into office and the crisis was still building momentum."

Romney no doubt won some points with women this week when Democratic strategist and pundit Hilary Rosen quipped that Ann Romney – who’d raised five sons – “never worked a day in her life.”

It may be true, as Ms. Rosen said, that Mrs. Romney has "never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of women in this country are facing." That would be true of any couple whose net worth approaches a quarter billion dollars, as does the Romney’s.

But it was an ill-phrased jibe that Rosen quickly apologized for and both Obamas publicly and pointedly criticized.

While Mr. and Mrs. Romney (and everybody else in the political universe) were lauding mothers who stay home to raise children, it turns out that Romney once seemed to have a double standard on the issue.

At a campaign stop in January, he pointed out that as governor of Massachusetts he insisted that poor mothers of young children receiving public assistance (which would not include Mrs. Romney) had to hold a job outside the home in order “to have the dignity of work.”

“Even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work,” Romney said.

The Romney campaign had to explain itself on another issue of particular interest to women this week.

Asked on a conference call with reporters whether Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, there was a long pause before a campaign official said, “We’ll have to get back to you.”

Some hours later, a campaign official said Romney “supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law.” But not before the Obama campaign was able to pronounce itself “shocked and disappointed to hear that Mitt Romney is not willing to stand up for women and their families.”

Opinion: How GOP can win more women voters

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