SEATTLE — In a last-ditch effort to prevent electoral disaster, President Barack Obama and Democratic allies are vigorously wooing women voters, whose usually reliable support appears to have softened.
From blunt TV ads to friendlier backyard chats, they're straining to persuade women that it's the Democrats who are on their side and it's in women's vital interest to turn out and vote in the Nov. 2 elections that could give Republicans control of one or both houses of Congress.
In Seattle on Thursday, Obama told local women and others that "how well women do will help determine how well our families are doing as a whole." Accompanied by women who own businesses, he spoke in a family's backyard about the economy's effects on women and outlined ways he said his policies have helped them.
[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.]
Later, trying to rekindle the enthusiasm of his presidential race, he all but ordered thousands of cheering supporters at a packed University of Washington arena to get out and vote, even though he's not on the ballot. Hoarsely shouting over the applause, he said, "If everybody that voted in 2008 shows up in 2010, we will win this election. We will win this election. But you've got to come out and vote."
Campaigning for one of the Democrats' female senators, Patty Murray, who is in a tight re-election fight, Obama attracted a bigger crowd than the 10,000 who could fit into the arena. The others moved to an overflow area set up in the university's football stadium, and the president ran through the stadium tunnel onto the field to greet them.
With the elections less than two weeks away and Democrats fearing big losses, candidates, party allies and others are joining Obama in seeking women's votes by hitting Republican opponents — in ads, mailings and speeches — on issues such as abortion rights. In every corner of the country, they are arguing that the GOP would erase progress American women have made under Democratic control of the White House and Congress.
The latest Associated Press-GfK poll underscores the Democrats' concern: Women long have leaned toward Democrats but, at a time of great economic unrest, those who are likely to vote now split fairly evenly between the two parties, 49 percent favoring Democrats, 45 percent Republicans. That's a significant drop from 2006 when Democrats had a double-digit edge. The current margin mirrors 1994, the year of a Republican wave that swept Congress.
[See an Opinion slide show of 5 ways a GOP majority should govern in 2011.]
Men usually break for Republicans, and they broadly favor the GOP this year, too.
Women could hold the key for Obama and his party as Democrats look to minimize expected widespread losses at all levels of government in a year when, particularly on the Republican side, female candidates top ballots in statewide races in Connecticut, South Carolina, California, New Hampshire, New Mexico and elsewhere.
Hope for the Democrats: A lot of women are undecided, and more than a third who are likely to vote say they could still change their minds before the election.
With that in mind, the White House, Democratic candidates and outside groups are reaching out to female voters.
Making it personal, Obama told the backyard group on Thursday he's determined to make sure that girls get as good an education as boys, particularly in math and science.
"As a father of two daughters, this is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about," he said.