“When it comes to a woman's right to make her own healthcare choices, they want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century,” he said, taking direct aim at his rival. “Mr. Romney’s running as the candidate of conservative values. There’s nothing conservative about a government that prevents a woman from making her own healthcare decisions. He says he’s the candidate of freedom. But freedom’s the chance, the opportunity to determine for yourself the care that you need when you need it.”
Obama’s remarks at a community college in Denver were tailored to woo women voters, a critical part of his base, and included a full-throated appeal based on policy and personality.
Obama spoke of his single mother who raised him and died of cancer in her 50s, as well as his wife and daughters. He was introduced by Sandra Fluke, the former Georgetown law student who last spring found herself at the center of the debate over birth control coverage and religious freedom. Fluke was called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh when she spoke out in favor of a new mandate requiring health insurance companies to cover contraception. Limbaugh later apologized.
As she introduced the president, Fluke referred to the incident, saying she was “verbally attacked.” And she thanked the president for defending her, while Romney said only “those were not the words I would choose.”
“Well, Mr. Romney, you’re not going to be the candidate I will choose,” Fluke said to cheers.
Women voters, particularly young and single, are a key part of the coalition that catapulted Obama into office. The president won over 56% of women voters, only to see the women’s vote spilt almost evenly in the midterm “shellacking” two years later.
Obama must reclaim that territory and maximize turnout to win in November. Polling released Wednesday showed Obama has an edge over Romney, although the erosion from 2008 is significant. In Colorado, Obama was leading Romney with women voters 51%-43%, according to survey conduced by Quinnipiac University, The New York Times and CBS News. He had a similar edge in Florida and larger advantages in Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all important battlegrounds.
Obama’s message to women hangs heavily on his healthcare law and Romney’s promise to repeal it. Obama touted several of the law’s provisions, most prominently the ban on insurance companies refusing coverage because of preexisting conditions and charging more for women.
Republicans, led by Romney, would undo the measure.
Romney countered Obama’s appeal to women Wednesday by announcing his “Women for Mitt” coalition, led by his wife, Ann Romney, and an advisory board that includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Callista Gingrich and Carly Fiorina.
“All across America, women are tired of the president’s failed policies,” said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash). “Since President Obama can’t run on his record, he’s resorted to scare tactics to distract and divide women – namely, the so-called 'War on Women,' which is a total myth. The women of America aren’t falling for it.”
Quinnipiac polling showed a majority of women voters in all six states say the president cares about issues important to them. But as he does with voters generally, Obama’s showed considerably less strength on the question of whether he had a handle on the most important issue, the economy.
Notably absent from Obama’s remarks was a direct reference to his pro-choice views. The president instead only hinted that the Supreme Court could determine the future of laws regarding abortion rights.
"Let's be very clear. The next president could tip the balance of the court in a way that turns back the clock for women and families for decades to come. The choice between going backward and moving forward has never been so clear," he said.