The Washington Post

Obama campaign steps up appeals to female voters

In the next week, the Obama campaign will redouble its efforts to woo women voters, as Republicans continue to distance themselves from Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s controversial comments on rape and abortion.

President Obama’s campaign on Friday is releasing a Web video featuring several women who say they have left the GOP because of the party’s antiabortion stance.

Democrats will feature a host of female speakers at their national convention next month. Democrats also will hold a “Women Vote 2012 Summit” in Las Vegas on Saturday. And several Democratic congresswomen and Obama supporters will head next week to Philadelphia, Richmond, Cleveland, Tampa, Manchester, N.H., and Raleigh, N.C., to talk about reproductive rights and women’s health. The campaign has dubbed it the “Romney/Ryan: Wrong for Women” tour.

The events continue the Obama campaign’s outreach to female voters, who long have been reliable Democratic supporters. Polls show women are leaning toward Obama, with 53 percent of female registered voters backing him, compared with 39 percent for Mitt Romney. Male voters are split evenly, with 46 percent supporting each candidate, according to a recent poll by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The poll was conducted before Akin’s comments Sunday, when he said that women rarely become pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape.” Akin has since apologized and said he misspoke.

The focus on women’s health issues is a two-pronged strategy, said William A. Galston, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Democratic aide. Both campaigns are “trying to raise the enthusiasm level of their core supporters,” he said. And these issues also distract Romney from his message.

“Every day not spent talking about the economy is a day wasted by Mitt Romney’s campaign,” Galston said. “Despite the fact that Romney was alert in repudiating not only the statement but Akin himself, there is still a chance that guilt by association will take hold.”

Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said women care most about “growing the economy, reducing our debt, and securing a more prosperous future for our children and their children. . . . Women have suffered disproportionally under President Obama, with women in the workplace suffering historic setbacks.”

In Obama’s Web ad, female voters — one of whom calls herself a conservative — paint the entire Republican Party as out of step on women’s reproductive issues, saying “Government shouldn’t be deciding what I can and cannot do with my own body.”

“What tends to happen is you just go and you vote and you click the ‘R’ box. Women need to know what’s going on. This is not the party I supported 10 years ago,” Maria Ciano said in an interview. She is 31 and a stay-at-home mom in Westminster, Colo., who appears in the video. “They are talking about things that [are] none of their business. They are going too far.”

But chances that GOP women will swing their support to Obama are slim, said political strategists and those who study women’s voting patterns. Ciano, who was raised Republican but voted for Obama in 2008 and had stopped affiliating with the GOP years before that, is an exception.

Nearly 90 percent of registered Republican women plan to vote for Romney, about the same as registered GOP men, according to the Post-Kaiser poll. Sixty-six percent of GOP women say abortion should be illegal all or most of the time, compared with 62 percent of GOP men. More than half of Republican women say the party shares most of their values.

“Who they are trying to go after with those ads are not so much the Republican women but independent women or the swing voters who haven’t decided yet,” said Susan Carroll, an expert on women’s participation in politics and a professor at Rutgers University. “Akin's comments in a lot of ways were handed to [Democrats] on a silver platter. The unfortunate part of this is that women’s reproductive freedom and lives are being thrown around as campaign fodder.”

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, also will travel the country for the Obama campaign next week talking about abortion rights. She said the issue has begun to animate Democratic women, which could spur higher turnout.

“Women are making the connection that the personal is political,” Keenan said.

Issues such as abortion and contraception were not expected to get much traction this campaign cycle, given polls that show the economy is the voters’ top concern, said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women in Politics Institute at American University.

“I don’t necessarily think that people are going to cast their ballots based on their position on abortion or contraception,” she said. “But the way the parties have polarized on these issues says something about whether you can trust that party on a whole range of issues.”

Polling manager Peyton Craighill contributed to this report.

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has been a business reporter, covered presidential campaigns and written about civil rights and race. More recently, she has covered the first lady's office, politics and culture.

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