HARTFORD — Mitt Romney, looking to repair lingering damage from a bruising primary fight, made a bold appeal for women voters Wednesday as he began his first full day of campaigning as the presumptive GOP nominee.
Flanked by a handful of women entrepreneurs, Romney hammered the Obama administration for its economic policies, using the “war on women” rhetoric against Democrats.
“I was disappointed in listening to the president as he’s saying, ‘Oh, Republicans are waging a war on women,’” Romney told a crowd of about 200 people packed into a graphics company here. “The real war on women is being waged by the president’s failed economic policies.”
Romney claimed that 92 percent of the jobs lost under Obama have been jobs occupied by women — a statistic has been called into question by several news organizations, including the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, which rated a similar claim by the RNC as “true but false.”
Polls show that Romney faces a daunting challenge when it comes to women voters. A Washington Post/ABC news poll shows him with a 20-point deficit, with women favoring Obama 58 to 38 percent.
In the recent days, Romney has turned to his wife, Ann, as a top surrogate in reaching out to women voters. But even that approach has been criticized, with critics saying Romney seemed to suggest that he was outsourcing women’s issues to his wife.
In framing the “war on women” as an economic one, Romney is seeking to maintain his focus on jobs, and strip his general election campaign of any of the divisive social issues — like contraception and Planned Parenthood -- that have helped define the primary season and damaged his standing among women.
Romney’s campaign kicked off the day with a conference call on the economy, but that call quickly became fodder for Democrats, who seized on what appeared to be a misstep by one of Romney’s aides.
In an exchange with a Huffington Post reporter, a Romney aide fumbled a question about the Lilly Ledbetter act, a bill signed by Obama that addresses equal pay for equal work.
Asked if Romney supported the bill, which was the first bill Obama signed as president, the aide said: “We’ll get back to you on that.”
A Romney aide later said that the former governor of Massachusetts supports pay equity for women.
In the meantime, the Romney campaign unleashed a slew of women surrogates to back him up, including Reps. Mary Bono Mack (Florida) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington)—two congresswomen who voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Act, a fact that Democrats pointed out in follow-up e-mails.
Romney also appeared on Fox News Wednesday morning, likely to be a frequent venue as he seeks to shore up support and generate enthusiasm among conservatives, who have slowly warmed to him as the GOP field has been winnowed.
With former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum’s exit from the race, Romney said that the general election campaign has begun.
Asked how he will counter Democrats’ attempts to paint him as out of touch, an effort seen Wednesday as the Obama campaign released the “Buffet Rule” calculator asking voters to compare their tax rates to Romney’s, the White House hopeful said that “people will get to know me better.”
“We have some time ahead, seven months in a general election campaign,” he said on Fox News. “But the person I’m out of touch with is Barack Obama. I’m in touch with the American people.”