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Obama Looks to Regain Edge With Women Voters

Obama Looks to Regain Edge With Women Voters

By Alexis Simendinger - October 18, 2012


President Obama tried in his debate Tuesday night with Mitt Romney to halt any precipitous slide of women voters toward his opponent, which meant he spent loads of time pouring crack filler into his base.

Following Romney’s strong first-debate performance in Denver, pollsters said many women appeared to take a new look at the challenger. Without a majority of support among women in Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and other neck-and-neck swing states, the president’s Electoral College math next month would look a lot more complicated.

“What we know is that women were basic to Obama’s core support, and when he lost a lot of support in response to that first debate, it came disproportionately from women,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Knowing why the president lost some traction among women could help gauge whether he or Romney crafted the more persuasive arguments during their rematch. Obama repeatedly emphasized differences with his opponent over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, insurance coverage for contraception, pay equity legislation, and education funding.

Under the town-hall format, the candidates fielded six questions from women, five from men, and they both tangled with moderator Candy Crowley of CNN. Obama telegraphed his eagerness to use issues of concern to women as part of his economic narrative, and he ended the debate by returning to Romney’s secretly recorded comments about the futility of trying to win support from the “47 percent” of Americans who view themselves as “victims.”

As he barnstormed through Iowa and Ohio on Wednesday, the president revisited his gender-focused themes while encouraging younger supporters to register and cast their ballots early.

“Governor Romney didn't want to talk much last night about how he wants to end funding for Planned Parenthood, how he supports legislation that would turn certain decisions about a woman's health care over to their employers. He didn't want to talk about it, because he knows he can't sell it,” Obama warned.

Steaming toward his first debate earlier this month, the president had counted especially on the support of unmarried women, along with minorities and younger voters, knowing that Romney and running mate Paul Ryan have been polling well among women over 65.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with ‘women’s issues,’ ” Kohut said Wednesday when asked about female voters’ reactions to the first debate. “It had to do with disillusionment with a candidate from among the people who were his strongest constituents. [Obama] wasn’t going to lose as much ground among men, because he was trailing among men going into that debate.”

It may be, as Democrats suggested, that the president stumbled recently among women because he showed himself to be a surprisingly poor combatant in Denver. Or it may be that Romney presented himself as a reasonable alternative to the incumbent, at least to women who had viewed him before the first debate as out of touch with their lives and too extreme in his ideology.

The latter is the assessment of Republican pollster Linda DiVall, founder and chief executive of American Viewpoint, who believes Romney can build on his gains, including among women -- and in spite of his much lampooned comment about “binders full of women,” an awkward phrase the former Massachusetts governor used Tuesday when recalling the search for qualified women to serve in his cabinet.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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