MOUNT VERNON, Iowa — President Obama hit the campaign trail with a triumphant tone Wednesday, speaking at rallies in Iowa and Ohio the day after a town hall debate where the two candidates sparred aggressively on taxes, national security and women’s health issues.
Obama spoke to a boisterous crowd of about 2,000 in a sweaty gymnasium at Cornell College here, where he continued the tough tone he took with Romney on Tuesday night. The president joked that he’s still learning how to debate, but he expects to be in great shape by the third match-up next week— a reference to his lackluster showing at the first debate two weeks ago. His more general goal was clear: to portray Romney as untruthful about his own positions, which Obama said continue to shift for political reasons.
“Governor Romney didn’t want to talk last night about how he wants to end funding for Planned Parenthood,” Obama said, hitting a common theme throughout his speech, women’s health issues. “He didn’t want to talk about it because he can’t sell it. I don’t think your boss should control the health care you get. I don’t think insurers should control the health care you get. I certainly don’t think politicians should control the health care you get.”
At another moment, the president, who has been wearing a pink rubber bracelet for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, mocked Romney for wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including its provision that prevents insurers from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions. “Being a woman is not a preexisting condition,” Obama said to cheers.
A few moments later, he made fun of Romney’s claim during the debate that he had “binders full of women” in an effort to recruit women for senior positions while he was governor of Massachusetts. “We don’t have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women ready to work and teach,” Obama quipped.
Women are seen as increasingly crucial to the outcome of the election. While Romney is trying to build on gains he has made in recent polls, Obama is trying to hang onto the lead he has built this year in part by hammering at Romney’s many statements on women’s health issues during the Republican primary season, when the GOP candidate described himself as “severely conservative.”
Reaching out to women has proven tricky for Romney, who is trying to appeal to moderate general-election voters without alienating the conservatives he courted during the primaries — and whom he needs to remain enthusiastic through Election Day. Last week Romney told the Des Moines Register: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” But the next day, conservative leaders came to Romney’s defense as an antiabortion champion, as if to assuage supporters who might have been alarmed by what the candidate said.
Obama’s advisers said he will continue to go after Romney for his statements on women’s issues. Both campaign manager Jim Messina and senior White House adviser David Plouffe said after Tuesday’s debate that women make up a majority of undecided voters in the swing states.
Romney’s comments on contraception during the debate, Plouffe said, were “a bald-faced dishonesty.” Despite his prior support of the Blunt Amendment, a failed measure that would have allowed employers to deny contraceptive coverage to employees, Romney said Tuesday: “I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.”
“The women’s health-care exchange was really important,” Plouffe told reporters. “I think it’s going to take on increased importance because there’s going to be scrutiny on it.
At his first rally on Wednesday, Obama hit a wide range of topics. He also repeated a phrase he used at the debate to describe Romney’s plan to cut taxes without slashing spending, saying, “Mitt Romney’s trying to sell you a sketchy deal.”
And he continued to stress his broader argument — that his policies will protect and strengthen the middle class, while Romney’s would erode it.
Meanwhile, the Romney campaign greeted Obama’s visit to Iowa on Wednesday with a full-page ad in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, in which 13 Iowans apologize in an open letter for supporting Obama in 2008. (There also was a group of young people wearing Romney-Ryan T-shirts in the bleachers at Obama’s rally . While some of them remained unsmiling throughout the speech, others occasionally broke into applause with the rest of the crowd).
“Mitt Romney will deliver the real recovery that President Obama has failed to bring, he’ll get Americans working again, and he’ll turn our economy around,” the ad says.