Women Voters Won the Second Presidential Debate

Both candidates lurched onto the campaign trail Wednesday with new appeals to shore up support among a key demographic that may decide the outcome in key swing states.

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A woman supports U.S. President Barack Obama outside Hofstra University prior to the second presidential debate on October 16, 2012 in Hempstead, New York

Athens, Ohio

A day later, there was no doubt about the winner of the second Presidential debate: Women.

Both candidates lurched onto the campaign trail Wednesday with new appeals to shore up support among a key demographic that may decide the outcome in key swing states. “You can choose to turn back the clock 50 years for women and for immigrants and for gays and for lesbians — or you can stand up and say, we want to move forward,” President Obama said at a rally in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, an appearance marked by repeated mentions of policies that impact women, from the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act to health insurance reforms that prevent surcharges for female patients.

“I’ve got to tell you, we don’t have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented driven young women ready to learn and teach in these fields right now,” Obama said, in reference to Mitt Romney’s claim during the debate that he had consulted a binder of female candidates for top jobs when he became governor of Massachusetts.

Not to be outdone, the Romney campaign shot back with their own set of appeals. “This president has failed America’s women,” Romney said at a post-debate rally in Chesapeake, Va. “They’ve suffered in terms of getting jobs. They’ve suffered in terms of falling into poverty. This is a presidency that has not helped America’s women.”

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The battle over the women’s vote continued on the airwaves and online. The Romney campaign put out an ad featuring a former Obama voter named Sarah Minto, who fact checks false Obama claims that Romney seeks to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Another spot, posted on the Romney campaign website with the name “Cabinet Members—Humanity,” featured testimonials from women who had worked with the governor. “Women who worked with Mitt Romney were struck by his humanity and his sensitivity,” boasted the campaign.

The Obama campaign countered with an online video called “Mitt Romney’s Condescending Views Towards Women,” which selectively edited portions of the debate answers of both Obama and Romney to a question about equal pay. The campaign also organized conference calls with reporters to discuss Obama’s record and his claim that he sought out binders full of potential female candidates in his Massachusetts administration.

Elsewhere, surrogates joined in the messaging. Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning in Greeley, Colo., charged that Romney “has gotten in this sort of 1950s time warp in terms of women.” Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan countered by telling CBS that Romney “has an exceptional record of hiring women in very prominent positions in his administration.”

After the debate Tuesday night, Obama senior advisor David Plouffe said he expects the fight over women’s issues to grow in the coming weeks. “There are more undecided women than men in all the battlegrounds,” he said. “In Colorado particularly in Jefferson County and the suburbs you have a lot of undecided women.”

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Romney’s top campaign strategist Stuart Stevens argued at the same time that the Obama campaign was on defense with women after the Vice Presidential Debate.  “Joe Biden was a disastrous night for the Obama campaign among women voters,” he said, referring to the vice presidents aggressive tone and split-screen gesticulations

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has opened a new front by claiming the methodology used by Gallup to identify likely voters is skewed, especially among women. Joel Benenson, the Obama campaign’s top pollster, called the latest Gallup poll showing a tie among likely women voters in battleground states an “extreme outlier.” “This implausible result among women appears to not even provide inaccurate reflection on the electorate today,” he said.

The Romney and Obama campaigns also clashed over a claim made by Ed Gillespie after Tuesday’s debate. “The governor would not repeal the Lilly Ledbetter Act,” he said, referring to a law that increased the legal options for women discriminated against on the job. “He was opposed to it at the time. He would not repeal it.” Hours later, Gillespie retracted his comment in an email to the Huffington Post. “I was wrong,” Gillespie wrote. “He never weighed in on it. As President, he would not seek to repeal it.” Immediately, the Obama campaign pounced on the confusion.

As the sun set amid autumn leaves on the campus of Ohio University, Obama finished the day much as he began it, reaching out to the group that he hopes will push him over the finish line. “I’ve got two daughters,” he said. “I don’t want them paid less than a man for doing the same job. And by the way you men out there, you don’t want your wives paid less for doing the same job.” The crowd of about 14,000 cheered its approval.

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