Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney holds a flyer as he speaks… (Steven Senne / AP Photo )
HARTFORD, Conn. — As Mitt Romney continued his efforts to make inroads with women by bashing President Obama’s record, his campaign’s hesitation about whether Romney supports a law making it easier for women to file lawsuits alleging pay inequity sparked a social media skirmish between the two campaigns.
Attempting to halt a slide in his support from moderate and independent women, Romney has centered his events this week in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut on job losses among women since Obama took office. But Romney’s advisors created an opening for the Obama campaign during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday when they failed to immediately state the Republican candidate’s position on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, a law that was the first piece of legislation signed by Obama.
Though the Romney campaign quickly clarified that Romney “supports pay equity” and is not looking to change the act, the Obama campaign released a statement from Lilly Ledbetter accusing Romney of failing to stand up for women and their families: “Women should have the ability to take their bosses to court to get the same pay as their male coworkers,” Ledbetter said in the statement. “Anyone who wants to be President of the United States shouldn’t have to think about whether they support pursuing every possible avenue to ensuring women get the same pay for the same work as men.”
Romney responded by dispatching a number of his female surrogates, including Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who said in a statement that women “in the Obama economy are facing hardships of historic proportions.” (The Obama campaign quickly pointed out that Bono Mack voted against the Ledbetter Act).
During a speech at a women-owned printing company in Hartford, the former Massachusetts governor did not specifically mention the Ledbetter Act and he ignored a reporter’s question about whether he favored changes to the law. But he waved his campaign’s latest visual: a poster accusing Obama of having “the worst record on female labor force participation” and “turning the clock back 20 years on American women.” The poster also heralded a controversial statistic that Romney has been using in recent days that “women account for 92.3% of the jobs lost under Obama.”
“This president has failed American women,” Romney said. “When he says, ‘Oh, there is a war on women,’ let's bring him back to the fact that it is the real war upon women that has been waged by his economic policies. Let’s hammer day in and day out what has happened under his policies, and recognize those policies, those things he believes, do not work.”
Obama’s advisor Stephanie Cutter offered a rebuttal on Twitter. “Since Romney wants to talk abt women, women gained 1.2 (million) jobs in last 25 months,” Cutter tweeted.
The 92.3% figure has been criticized by a number of independent fact checkers, including Politifact – which rated the claim “mostly false.” Politifact noted that the Romney campaign calculated the figure by using employment data spanning four years, including Obama’s first month in office in January of 2009, when the economy was still losing jobs that began to disappear under former President George W. Bush. Job losses were higher for women during that period because many men had already lost their jobs and many women followed.
Gary Steinberg, a spokesman for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, told Politifact in an email that "between January 2009 and March 2012 men lost 57,000 jobs, while women lost 683,000 jobs. This is the reverse of the recession period of December 2007-June 2009 (with an overlap of six months) which saw men lose 5,355,000 jobs and women lose 2,124,000 jobs."
If the Romney campaign had begun its calculation in 2007, Politifact noted, women would have accounted for less than 40% of the total jobs lost.
Romney policy director Lanhee Chen challenged the website’s analysis as “inappropriate” – noting that one expert they consulted had contributed to Obama’s campaign and another recently served as chief economist for Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. In a letter to Politifact, Chen called the analysis “inadequate” and asked for a retraction.