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Lynn Sweet: Election could come down to what women want

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns Lancaster Ohio Friday Oct. 12 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns in Lancaster, Ohio, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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Updated: November 15, 2012 6:42AM



LEBANON, OHIO — Warming up the large, friendly crowd at a Mitt Romney rally in this historic town, Ohio State Sen. Shannon Jones and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor on Saturday pitched female voters.

“You moms out there, you need to get five more moms out there to the polls this week” Jones said, urging women to take advantage of early voting in this presidential battleground state.

“I don’t know what this war on women is we hear from the other side,” Taylor said.

Romney stumped on a stage next to the Golden Lamb Restaurant and Inn — Ohio’s oldest hotel visited by 12 presidents. To become the 13th, Romney needs to woo more female voters to beat President Barack Obama — with both campaigns running massive programs to turn out the women’s vote — and with Romney making some gains for the first time.

On Friday, the Obama campaign started a new ad in the battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa, Florida and Colorado hitting Romney for not “protecting your access to birth control . . . and the basic women’s health care services Planned Parenthood provides.”

Romney’s bid for female votes was a reason he immediately called for Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin to drop out of the race after he said last August “legitimate rape” victims rarely get pregnant.

And Romney distanced himself from Rush Limbaugh after the radio host called law student Sandra Fluke a “prostitute” because she backed insurance coverage for birth control under Obama’s health care law. Fluke is now a major surrogate for the Obama campaign operation targeting women voters.

Female independents and undecideds — many found in suburbs — are the prize.

Cecile Richards, on leave as president of Planned Parenthood to stump for Obama, told me in 2012, the “discussion has broadened beyond abortion” with access to health insurance — women not paying more than men, not having a co-pay for preventive care, contraceptives covered by insurance — “an economic issue” in the campaign, “and women understand that.”

Barbara Comstock, a Virginia co-chair of the Romney campaign, told me, “We listen to women, and talk to women about what their top priority is and we hear time and again number one, two, and three is jobs, the economy and their kids, those are their concerns.”

Recent Romney campaign ads pitching women reflect that — and are focused on the economy.

A spot released last week features a female small business owner who backed Obama in 2008 who said she is switching to Romney because she doesn’t see the economy growing and that’s “important to women.” Another spot, showing a young woman holding a baby, said, in this tough economy, “Obama’s policies are making it harder on women.”

Female voting power is magnified because since 1980, their turnout rate is higher than men — some 10 million more women than men voted in 2008, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

What do women want? They “have different perspectives on the role of government,” said Susan Carroll, a senior scholar at the Center. Salient in the 2012 contest: “Health care as an economic issue seems to resonate more among women and the debt more with men,” Carroll told me.

Until Romney bested Obama in their first debate in Denver, Obama held a consistent lead among female voters in all polls as Democrats portrayed Romney and Republicans as waging a war on women.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted after the Oct. 3 debate from Oct. 4-7 showed women split between Romney and Obama. That was Romney’s best showing with women all year in a Pew survey. A Fox News poll taken Oct. 7-9 gave Obama an eight-point lead over Romney with female voters.

Michael Dimrock, Pew’s associate research director, said Romney may have gained “more traction” among women because of the debate where “Romney had a lot more ground to make up among women than among men — his personal image, and the Republican Party’s image, was far worse among women, meaning there was more damage to be repaired.”

And unlike the Thursday vice presidential debate — where Joe Biden and Paul Ryan talked about their opposing views on abortion — Biden supports, Ryan opposes abortion rights — social issues were absent from the Denver debate.

Biden, stumping in Wisconsin on Friday, said, “If anyone had a doubt about what’s at stake in this election, when it comes to women’s rights, and the Supreme Court, I am sure they were settled last night. Congressman Ryan made it very clear that he and Governor Romney are prepared to impose their private views on everyone else.”

Winning female votes has been a focus of the Obama re-election campaign since it started — actually since Obama became president, where the first bill he signed, by design, was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Ledbetter is now stumping for Obama.

The “Women for Obama” operation has vote directors in the 10 battleground states with “Women’s Wednesdays” phone banks, house parties and “Women’s Summits” held in swing states.

Romney’s campaign has a large “Women for Mitt” operation, hosting roundtables, forums and town halls and phonebanking. They also have women vote directors in the battleground states.

There is a squad of women on the road in the swing states who have worked with Romney while he was governor of Massachusetts and when he helmed the Salt Lake City Olympics.

The tactics are similar — women-to-women networking with female elected officials dispatched to help energize the troops.

“Our message has been resonating on the ground,” Romney Women Vote Director Courtney Johnson told me.

The Obama team points to swing state polls — not national surveys — where Obama leads among women. Stressing the economic benefits of affordable health care is a central message, Obama Women Vote Director Kate Chapek told me. “That’s where we will continue to beat the drum.”



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