By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attention, women: Ann Romney and Sandra Fluke are talking to you. Listen up, glum partisans: Conservatives not in love with Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney get pep talks next week from running mate Paul Ryan and tea party favorite Chris Christie.
And if you're a ho-hum supporter of President Barack Obama, tune in after Labor Day for feel-good walks back to the future from first lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
"This election to me is about which candidate is more likely to return us to full employment. This is a clear choice," Clinton says in a new ad, previewing his speech on Obama's behalf to the Democratic National Convention. "We need to keep going with his plan."
At their nominating conventions over the next two weeks, Democrats and Republicans are playing political matchmakers between their stars and critical groups of voters in a tight presidential election that's all about keeping supporters or peeling them away from the other guy.
For Obama, Romney and congressional candidates battling for control of Congress, victory in 2012 likely lies in the suburbs of the nation's swing states with women and undecided voters who care most about the wobbly economy.
The neck-and-neck nature of the presidential race heightens the importance of energizing party stalwarts — and getting them to cast actual votes on Election Day.
"Sometimes it's helpful to have other people who are like you say, 'Yeah, I'm going to support this guy,'" said Danielle Vinson, chair of the political science department at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. That's particularly true with Romney, she added, "who hasn't always connected personally with people."
Constituent politics, tightly choreographed, begins Monday at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., and continues a week later for the Democrats in Charlotte, N.C.
In both places, the importance of the speakers skyrocketed after Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin this week suggested in an interview that during "legitimate rape" a woman's body has ways to block conception and that abortions should be outlawed without exceptions for such assaults.
The comments, for which Akin has apologized, reignited a debate over social issues that Romney has labored to quiet with a relentless focus on the economy.
Akin also drew new attention to differences on the abortion issue between the former Massachusetts governor and Ryan. And when Akin defied demands from Romney and the rest of the GOP high command to leave the Senate race, the Missouri congressman exposed a key weakness in the Republican leadership just when the party is trying to project confidence and unity.
Akin says he won't attend the GOP convention, but it'll be hard for Republicans to act like they've never heard of him. The Republican National Committee is including support in its draft platform for a ban on abortion without naming exceptions. Democrats are calling it "the Akin plank."
"He's going to run his campaign, and we're going to run ours," Ryan said of Akin, underscoring the gulf.
So it falls to the Republican speakers to change the subject back to Romney next week in Tampa and to their Democratic counterparts in Charlotte to keep the Akin issue alive.
Both marquees tell the story of a fierce fight for female voters that has raged all year. An Associated Press-GfK poll this month found Obama maintains a slight lead among female voters: 50 percent of women back the president while 44 percent support Romney.
Ann Romney, the candidate's wife, leads the Republican effort in a speech early next week designed to paint a softer picture of her sometimes aloof husband and reassure women that he offers them more. In doing so, she reprises a role she played in during the brutal GOP primaries in which she rose to her husband's defense against the Democratic charge that Republicans are waging a "war on women."
Democrats have long recognized Ann Romney's effectiveness, notably refusing to back up a then-little known consultant named Hilary Rosen who suggested that Ann Romney knows little about women's struggles because the would-be first lady had "never worked a day in her life." Rosen later apologized.
In Charlotte, Obama and his Democratic allies are countering with a full slate of female speakers, made public Tuesday at the height of the public shoving match between Akin and Republican leaders.
Leading their lineup are Michelle Obama and Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student called a "slut" by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for supporting the provision in the president's health care law that requires insurance coverage of contraception.
Fluke, who has campaigned for Obama, provided a preview of her speech in an email released by the president's re-election campaign.
Romney and Ryan, Fluke wrote, tried to distance themselves from Akin's comments about rape.
"But the fact is they're in lockstep with Akin on the major women's health issues of our time," Fluke wrote in the email to supporters. "There is a clear choice for women in this election."
The Republican and Democratic slates of speakers suggest the parties want to fire up partisans and court minority voters.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is speaking just before Romney on the closing day of the GOP convention in a nod to increasingly influential Hispanic voters and the freshman senator's own rising status in the party.
Also on the GOP slate is New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the first female Hispanic governor, and Artur Davis, a former Democratic congressman who is black.
In Charlotte, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will be the first Latino keynote speaker at a Democratic convention.
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