US Presidential Election 2012

Obama's forceful pitch to women puts Romney in a bind

Candidate's odd response to question on pay equity for women becomes social media hit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 4:04am

With polls suggesting women voters were shifting their support to Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama made an aggressive pitch to them in the latest presidential debate, that yielded awkward moments for the Republican and a new catch phrase on social media.

Obama hit hard on issues such as equal pay for women and contraception and abortion rights, topics that did not come up in the first debate on October 3, when Romney outshone the Democratic president.

Romney has gained ground on Obama in opinion polls with Reuters/Ipsos polling data showed the Democrat's support slipping among women, particularly those who are married.

Fifty-nine per cent of married white women backed Romney for president, versus only 30.4 per cent who picked Obama, according to data for the week ending last Sunday. That was a move of around eight points in Romney's favour since before the first debate.

With strong support among women essential to his hopes of winning re-election, Obama devoted much of the second debate toward shoring up their support.

He mentioned the women's health organisation Planned Parenthood five times. He stressed that Romney had promised to defund the organisation, which provides contraception and abortions, but also basic services such as cancer screenings.

Romney hit back by saying that he would help women, and all Americans, by improving the sputtering economy. But the Republican offered fewer specifics on women's issues than Obama and at times seemed to stumble.

One of the night's most memorable moments came when Romney was asked how he would ensure pay equity for women. He answered by recalling how, as governor of Massachusetts, he had been concerned when all of the applicants for his cabinet were men.

"I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks,' and they brought us whole binders full of women," Romney said.

Romney's somewhat awkward response lit up social media. "Binders full of women" became one of Google's most-searched terms, and the user name RomneyBinders got its own Twitter account, and attracted more than 31,000 followers less than an hour after the debate ended. The hashtag #bindersfullofwomen was one of the 10 most common on the social media service. Romney repeatedly mentioned that millions of women had lost their jobs in the four years Obama has been president.

"There are 3.5 million more women living in poverty today than when the president took office," he said.

"What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce, and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women the opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford," he said.

Obama stressed his support for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill he signed into law as president, which guarantees equal pay for women workers. Romney has declined to say whether he supports the law.

Analysts said Obama's performance was likely to stop the loss of support among women voters.