As the general election gets under way, analysts have repeatedly underscored female voters as the group that will determine its outcome. According to a series of recent polls, they're flocking to President Obama.
The latest example is a new USA Today-Gallup Poll that shows the president's lead with women over Mitt Romney. Among female voters in 12 swing states, Obama is ahead by 18 points. The gap is even wider among younger women, with more than 60 percent under the age of 50 supporting Obama.
The president's approval rating with women had actually dropped last December. But the longer Republicans talked about contraception and "getting rid of" Planned Parenthood, the more women started to prefer the president's message.
Likely hoping to capture this groundswell of support in a bottle, on Friday the White House hosted a forum on women and the economy. For four hours administration officials — including Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius — discussed their efforts to bolster economic security for women, with panels on women in the workplace, entrepreneurship, education, health care and violence against women and girls.
Midway through the summit, President Obama stopped by to address the audience. He first tried to distance himself from the polls and analysis of female voters, calling them oversimplified. "Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group," he said. "Women are over half this country and its workforce — not to mention 80 percent of my household, if you count my mother-in-law."
With that, he ticked off his administration's work, starting with the gender pay gap.
"Right now, women are a growing number of breadwinners in the household. But they're still earning just 77 cents for every dollar a man does — even less if you're an African-American or Latina woman," he said. He continued that in 2009 he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for women and other workers to sue for pay discrimination, in order to work against that.
Obama also spoke on health care reform, listing its provisions that benefit women in particular. "Last year more than 20 million women received expanded access to preventive services like mammograms and cervical-cancer screenings at no additional cost," he said. "Nearly 2 million women enrolled in Medicare received a 50 percent discount on the medicine that they need. Over 1 million more young women are insured because they can now stay on their parent's plan. And later this year, women will receive new access to recommended preventive care like domestic violence screening and contraception at no additional cost."
Then he pushed back on the GOP. "When something like the Violence Against Women Act — a bill Joe Biden authored, a bill that once passed by wide bipartisan margins — is suddenly called to question, that makes no sense," he said to applause. "That's not something we should still be arguing about."
Meanwhile, Romney acknowledges that he has a "women problem" — but he attributes it to Democratic distortion of his positions, and says that the tide will turn. "There's no question that over the past several weeks, that a discussion about religious liberty was distorted into a discussion about contraceptives … that somehow Republicans are opposed to contraceptives," Romney said in a Newsmax interview this week. "I think it was a most unfortunate twist by our Democrat friends. I think this will pass as an issue as people understand our real position."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.