ALBUQUERQUE — Barack Obama challenged the women's rights record of his Republican rival, John McCain, on Monday as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee stepped up efforts to win over female voters.
Opening a Southwest campaign swing here at a baked-goods business, Illinois Sen. Obama criticized Arizona Sen. McCain for opposing a bill that would make it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination.
"He suggested that the reason women don't have equal pay isn't discrimination on the job, it's because they need more education and training," Obama told a few dozen women at the baking center of the Flying Star Cafe chain on Route 66. "Now that was wrong."
McCain says that women should get equal pay but that the bill Obama supports would invite unnecessary lawsuits.
The bill would essentially reverse a Supreme Court ruling last year that limited the amount of time a person can wait before filing a pay discrimination claim.
"I can't think of any problem that's more important than making sure that women are getting a square deal on the job," Obama said. "It's a matter of equality. It's a matter of fairness."
Obama, who today will campaign in Las Vegas and then raise money in Los Angeles, also called for expanding federal family and medical leave protections. He proposed extending the law to give workers time off to care for elderly parents, to attend children's school activities, or to recover from rape or domestic violence. And he would require employers to allow workers seven paid sick days a year.
Obama also wants the law to apply to more small businesses, those with 25 or more workers; right now the law covers businesses of 50 or more.
Obama spoke to several dozen women at Flying Star Cafe after touring the kitchen, surveying mounds of butter used to make croissants and pies.
"Is this all low-fat?" the grinning candidate asked. No one responded.
McCain's campaign, for its part, criticized Obama for recent remarks on uniting his party after his defeat of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the protracted nomination battle. Obama privately told lawmakers that Clinton supporters would "get over it" once they realized McCain took the wrong side on women's issues, according to a Democratic congresswoman speaking to ABC News.
McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker said: "When you consider women are a major driving force behind small business start-ups in this country, Barack Obama's proposals to raise taxes on millions of small businesses isn't going to help women voters 'get over it.' "
Obama plans to appear with Clinton on Friday at a rally in Unity, N.H. In New Hampshire's Democratic primary in January, Clinton and Obama each received 107 votes in Unity.