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Have Mitt Romney and Barack Obama Forgotten That Women Exist -- And That They Have the Vote?

Clinic doors are closing; yet after a strong push, the Dems seem to be taking women's votes for granted.

A sign at a NYC rally for Planned Parenthood.
Photo Credit: Sarah Seltzer


During the first presidential debate last week, a lot of topics got their share of airtime: taxes, healthcare, Big Bird, Barack Obama’s wedding anniversary.

Since the debate, a lot of other things have been talked about: chutzpah, the 47%, poll numbers, Big Bird, and Mitt Romney’s "bounce."

Unfortunately in the midst of all this chatter, the hot-button issues that affect half of the population have been strangely missing.

Indeed, a popular tweet the night of the debate noted that the president’s debate-opening anniversary shout-out to his wife Michelle was the only mention of women or women’s issues in an hour and a half supposedly devoted to domestic policy--and in the wake of a year in which such topics were rarely out of the news for long. So given that everything from birth control to equal pay had been on the campaign's radar, it was odd to see these issues disappear from the discourse. The loss of momentum in this area joined the narrative of Obama not hitting out on his strengths.

Obama will need his lead among women to win.

But more important than what Obama needs from women is what women need from politicians like him--and that’s help. Because the doors to clinics across the country, from Texas to Brooklyn to Virgina are closing, leaving women bereft of basic care for themselves and their families. The idea that the economy and women’s health can be separated is laughable.

The 51% Missing from the Debate

Bryce Covert nailed it the morning after the debate in her piece for the Nation, explaining just what policies of his own tenure Obama could have mentioned to appeal to women voters--and how he might have made these kinds of gender equality and rights issues visible to the viewing public:

"Romney talked up his plan to overturn the Affordable Care Act as fast as he can. That includes the mandate that insurance cover contraception as a preventative care service without a co-pay, a provision that Ryan has said his team would undo on 'day one.' That means women will go back to shelling out nearly $12,000 over their lifetimes for hormonal birth control. But the ACA also undoes gender rating, saving women $1 billion a year in paying more for the same services. Obama could have easily brought up either to demonstrate how anti-woman the pledge to repeal the ACA really is.

"He could have also mentioned the first bill he signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which Romney has struggled with. Remember that awkward five-second silence when his advisers were asked whether Romney supports the bill?"

This failure to play to the 51% may have hurt the candidate. As TPM reported, a “shocking” new Pew poll showed Romney with a bounce: “Obama’s 18-point lead with women shown in Pew’s previous poll is also gone, with the two candidates now tied among female voters.” (Okay, so it’s one poll that’s maybe not so reliable, but the importance of continuing to touch on the GOP’s extremism and bring over middle-of-the-road women voters can’t be overstated.) Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told the Washington Post that the main reason for Obama's recent poll slippage is that he is losing his previously-strong connection with unmarried women.

That initial lead that appears to be slipping somewhat had been built when Democrats realized that they ought to be aggressive on reproductive rights, for once, in the words of Irin Carmon, during the halcyon days of early September, this year. You know, last month:

In a striking departure, Democrats have embraced the opportunity to do something they haven’t done on a national level in a while: reframe the debate. Democrats are moving off the conservative terrain of the ’90s, and actually arguing that safe abortion access is part of a comprehensive agenda of women’s rights. Not “privacy.” Not a “tragedy.” Women’s full participation, without coercion.

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