President Obama speaks at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy. (Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty…)
WASHINGTON — President Obama tried to burnish his credentials with a crucial group of voters Friday, saying his administration would do more forwomen's health and economic status than his Republican opponents.
Speaking at a White House forum on women in the workforce, Obama defended his attempts to boost healthcare access, paychecks and employment opportunities for women. He declared much of the recent political back-and-forth over women's issues "oversimplified."
"Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group," the president told a group of policymakers and business leaders. "You shouldn't be treated that way. Women are over half this country and its workforce."
Although they may not vote as a bloc, women are viewed as critical to determining who will occupy the White House next year. Polls show Democrats have recently gained back ground lost with women in 2010, in part by casting Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and block federal support for contraception as a "war on women."
Obama seemed to try to distance himself from his party's tough talk on Friday, but he stuck to the core accusation that Republicans are trying to take away women's healthcare and federal protections.
"When people talk about repealing healthcare reform, they're not just saying we should stop protecting women with preexisting conditions," Obama said. "When people say we should get rid of Planned Parenthood, they're not just talking about restricting a woman's ability to make her health decisions. They're talking about denying, as a practical matter, the preventive care, like mammograms, that millions of women rely on."
Republicans fired back quickly, seizing on the latest jobs reports to argue that women are flailing in an economy with Obama at the helm. The campaign of Obama's likely GOP opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, pointed to numbers showing that 92% of all jobs lost during Obama's tenure belonged to women.
"He's even more clueless than we thought," campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul tweeted.
That figure, however, is somewhat misleading because it does not account for the millions of men who lost jobs before Obama took office. In fact, women fared better in the recession — women accounted for about 35% of the total number of jobs lost since the recession began. Women, however, are not getting jobs back at a pace equal to men. About 25% of jobs created since February 2010 have gone to women.
The fight for these voters, and the arguments that will win their votes, will likely dominate the final months of the campaign. Independent women appear to be among the unsettled groups of voters still assessing the president and his likely rival.
In recent weeks, the president has made gains with those women where it counts. At the end of last year, Obama trailed Romney by 5 percentage points among independent female voters living in swing states, according to a Gallup poll of voters in 12 key states. Surveys from February and March found the president had a 14-percentage-point advantage over Romney.
On Friday, Obama was eager to keep up the momentum. The president, who has two daughters, made several jokes about being raised by and surrounded by women. He even worked in a dig on Congress, another of his frequent campaign targets.
"Is it possible Congress would get more done if there were more women in Congress?" the president asked, quickly answering his own question. "I think it's fair to say that is almost guaranteed."