Women continue to be one of the groups tilting most solidly in President Obama's direction three weeks before election day, and two sets of allies moved Monday to try to solidify the incumbent's standing among female voters, who could make up as much as 55% of the electorate.
Three Hollywood actresses led one of the efforts -- a television ad that says the Republican presidential ticket would try to end abortion rights for women, cut Planned Parenthood and services such as cancer screening and seek to force invasive ultrasounds on women before abortions.
The second push Monday came from the Democratic Party and union activists, who argued in a conference call with reporters that Mitt Romney would harm women on a broader set of issues as well -- including healthcare, equal pay, tax policy and government support for college education.
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A Politico/George Washington University Battleground poll released Monday showed Obama still with a wide lead among women -- 54% to 43%. But the poll also showed that women’s views on Romney have improved slightly. Forty-eight percent said they had a negative impression of him, a three-point improvement from a poll before the Republican nominee turned in a strong debate performance on Oct. 3.
The first debate between the presidential candidates focused mostly on jobs and the economy and, secondarily, on broad themes about the role of government. Obama presumably will have more of an opportunity to focus during Tuesday’s second debate -- in which a broad range of foreign and domestic issues are fair game -- on some of the issues where, polls show, women favor him over Romney.
The 30-second TV ad featuring Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington makes a straight-ahead appeal. "I want to talk to you about women," Johansson says, opening the spot. She and the other actresses -- who spoke for Obama at the Democratic National Convention -- then note that Romney has called for the overturn of the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
They also raise cutbacks of Planned Parenthood proposed by Republicans and a proposal by some in the party (though not Romney) to "redefine rape." The reference was to a 2011 antiabortion bill in Congress that would have allowed abortions in cases of "forcible rape." That provoked a furious response from critics, who said that rape by definition was committed with force and that conservatives seemed to be trying to still block abortions in cases in which, for instance, the victims were underage or not conscious.
Moveon.org, the liberal political action committee, said it would pay to air the ad nationally and in the swing states of Colorado and Virginia.
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Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz led the conference call, which sought to expand that list of grievances. She renewed the charge that Romney's tax plan "didn’t add up" because -- as some analysts have noted -- there are not enough deductions for high-income earners to offset the 20% tax cut the Republican has said he wants to give to all Americans. Wasserman Schultz predicted the gap would be filled by increasing the federal budget deficit or by increasing taxes for middle-class families.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said Romney's plan to throw out Obama's healthcare law would also hurt women. She noted that the law requires insurance to provide for mammograms and other preventive tests, as well as contraception. The law also eliminates lifetime benefit caps by insurance companies, Henry said.
Joining the politics on the conference call was a Pittsburgh, Pa., woman who questioned Romney's commitment to the middle class. Libya Williams said she had been offended when the candidate said -- in remarks secretly videotaped and released to the media -- that 47% of Americans viewed themselves as "victims" who don’t want to take responsibility for themselves.
Williams said she was not looking for a "handout" but for a leader who would keep people like her -- a mother of two, raised in a military family -- in mind when making decisions. She said Romney seemed to be more interested in his circle of wealthy friends.