Fearing Rout, Obama, Democrats Reach to Female Voters

Associated Press + More

[See photos of Michelle Obama.]

Mrs. Obama reminded the crowd that her husband had named two women to the Supreme Court and that the first piece of legislation he signed as president was the Lilly Ledbetter Act to help women achieve equal pay.

Across the country, Democratic candidates and their allies are reaching out to women, mostly by casting their Republican opponents — some of them women as well — as out-of-step with their concerns.

The head of EMILY's List, Stephanie Schriock, recently warned voters in a speech that a Republican takeover of Congress — and Republican John Boehner as House speaker — would mean "a dangerous world." The organization, dedicated to electing women who favor abortion rights, had hundreds of female volunteers calling women in California urging them to vote for Sen. Barbara Boxer.

In Nevada, a new ad by the Service Employees International Union assails Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid's GOP challenger, saying Sharron Angle would force a rape victim who was impregnated to have the baby, and her ideas would hurt women's ability to get college loans, find jobs and have Social Security.

Elsewhere, Democrats have hammered Republican Ken Buck in Colorado's Senate race over claims of a woman who says Buck once refused to prosecute a case in which she said she had been raped. In Kentucky's Senate race, Democrat Jack Conway, trailing his GOP opponent in the polls, has an ad running that asks: "Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up?" — a reference to an allegation of a college prank. And Washington Sen. Murray is assailing Republican Dino Rossi with an ad that accuses him of wanting to "turn back the clock" on abortion rights.

[See the women of the Senate.]

On Election Day a week from Tuesday, women could make the difference in a couple of dozen extraordinarily close congressional races scattered across the nation, and in a half dozen neck-and-neck Senate contests that could determine whether Republicans rise to power, among them Washington state, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

[See a slide show of 14 establishment candidates who lost to insurgents.]

Women also could affect governors' races from coast to coast, including the biggest prizes of the year in Ohio, California and Florida.

Top Democrats publicly shrug off the notion that women are fleeing the party, but the intense focus by the White House and candidates on this generally reliable constituency shows a concern.

"One of the issues that separates us from the Republican Party is our advocacy on these issues," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod. "There is a very strong case to be made for the advocacy that we've shown and for our belief that getting fair treatment for women, whether it's in the workplace, in the health care system, in obtaining capital in order to start or expand businesses."

To promote that position, Obama's National Economic Council released a report on "Jobs and Economic Security for America's Women" — detailing small-business loans, child care tax credits and other programs aimed at women — and top aide Valerie Jarrett made the rounds on morning talk shows to promote his policies.

"Strengthening opportunities for women in our economy is a key focus of the presidents economic agenda," Jarrett wrote the White House blog.

For Democrats, the challenge over the next days is great.

Women are less tuned into the election than men, with just 54 percent of women who are likely to vote saying they have a great deal of interest compared with 67 percent of men, according to the AP-GfK poll.

Still, nearly half of women say they want to see Democrats retain control of Congress, compared with 41 percent who would prefer the GOP. Men are the reverse.

Women likely to vote also are more apt than men to say they trust Democrats more than Republicans — or they trust the two parties the same — on most issues tested, including creating jobs.

And 54 percent of women likely to vote say they'd like to see their own House member re-elected. It's a good sign for Democrats in a Congress where they outnumber Republicans.