Obama made sure reporters knew he had telephoned the young woman, Sandra Fluke, to offer support. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called Limbaugh's remarks "inappropriate." And Limbaugh, losing advertisers, apologized.
The Democrats' pitch — that Republicans were launching a "war on women" was born. Coast to coast, Democrats hawked the theme. Women senators used it to raise money, wives of candidates included it in pleas for support, and surrogates — from Sen. Claire McCaskill's mother to former tennis star Billie Jean King — ran with it.
"Stop the GOP's War on Women!" read an email sent to Democrats by the party's House campaign committee.
The drumbeat has frustrated Republicans, pushed onto the defensive as polls showed a majority of Americans favored the president's contraception policy.
But the notion that Republicans are out to strip women of their rights "is just a lie," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. "It's not a war on women. It's an effort to protect religious liberty."
But Ann Romney's rebuttal moves the response further, said veteran GOP pollster Ed Goeas.
Polling, he said, shows that different subgroups of women assess economic questions differently — and that white women in particular respond well to the Republicans' economic message.
"Everybody's responding to this as if women vote as a monolith," Goeas said. "They don't."
Or, suggested Murkowski, they shouldn't.
In the interview, she said she regrets her vote for the GOP amendment to overturn Obama's contraception policy. If she had it to do over again, she would join Snowe in voting against it.
"Women in Alaska are worried about what they're paying for energy costs. They're worried about whether or not they're going to be able to put their kids through college, whether their savings are secure," Murkowski said.
Even Obama acknowledged that female voters are going to want questions answered on the economy.
"I'm not somebody who believes that women are going to be single-issue voters. They never have been," he said.
Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.
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