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Democrats Ratchet Up the War for Women's Votes in Charlotte

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call

Democrats in Charlotte, N.C., this week focused an aggressive counterpunch to the GOP's concerted efforts to reach out to female voters and shrink the gender gap in a messaging war that could determine the outcome of the election.

While the GOP convention's appeal to women focused on the economy and especially on humanizing their nominee, Mitt Romney, Democrats brought speaker after speaker - from equal-pay advocate Lilly Ledbetter to Georgetown student and activist Sandra Fluke to the head of Planned Parenthood to, perhaps most effectively, first lady Michelle Obama - to hammer home a whole host of issues they believe will resonate, including contraception coverage, abortion rights, and the 2010 health care law's ban on discrimination against women in health care premiums.

"I think the counterpunch has been tremendous and landed four square," Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said. Kaptur said that while Republicans led by Mitt and Ann Romney talked extensively about their love for women and moms of all kinds - the nominee's speech mentioned the word "mom" a dozen times - women will care more about the policies they didn't talk about.

"They were shallow on substance and long on rhetoric," she asserted.

"They spent so much time trying to make Mitt Romney into a human, they never talked about the policies that a human would make," quipped Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Murray said the economy isn't the only thing women care about.

"Absolutely they care about the economy. They want a job, but they want to have control over their own health care. They don't want their boss to have control," she said.

It's not enough to say "I like women, vote for me," she said.

Fluke - the student who became a national celebrity when Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" after she sought to testify before Congress in favor of contraception coverage this year - evoked the most visceral reactions from partisans in both parties when she spoke Wednesday night.

Fluke's story had inspired many of the delegates in the hall - with a popular "Sluts VOTE" button brought by to the convention by a member of the Illinois delegation to protest Limbaugh.

Fluke brought up the image of Republicans holding a male-only panel at a hearing on contraception earlier this year and said Romney had failed to stand up to Limbaugh.

"Your new president could be a man who stands by when a public figure tries to silence a private citizen with hateful slurs. Who won't stand up to the slurs, or to any of the extreme, bigoted voices in his own party," Fluke said.

Romney has seized on religious opposition to the mandate by the Catholic bishops and pushed the issue as a matter of freedom of religion instead.

Fluke went on to attack GOP-written state laws requiring ultrasounds before abortions, an attempt to "redefine rape," and the health care law's prohibition on charging men and women different rates for health insurance.

Fluke framed the election as a choice between "a country where we mean it when we talk about personal freedom or one where that freedom doesn't apply to our bodies and our voices."

Democrats believe the dispute over paying for contraception is a surefire winner among women, given the prevalence of its use and its cost, and that it will help the president maintain his lead among female voters.

Ledbetter, meanwhile, had the crowd cheering her zinger against Romney, saying that women still only make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

"Maybe 23 cents doesn't sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, a Cayman Islands investment, an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars," she said. "Three years ago, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act to level the playing field for women in America. The Senate Republicans blocked it. Mitt Romney won't even say if he supports it."

The Romney campaign quickly put out a statement pointing to a Romney interview where he declared he supported equal pay and would not change the law. But in that interview, he declined to say whether he would have signed it in the first place.

Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood, noted Mitt Romney and the GOP's push to cut the group's funding and overturn Roe v. Wade.

"This past year, women learned that when we aren't at the table, we're on the menu. So this November, women are organizing, we are mobilizing and we're voting for the leaders who fight for us," she said.

The GOP convention worked overtime to try and rehabilitate Mitt Romney's appeal to women. Ann Romney's heartfelt anecdotes about her husband was punctuated by her declaration, "I love you women!" Later in the nominee's own speech, Romney said his wife's job as a mother is tougher than his own. Romney highlighted the women he chose for top jobs in his administrations - and the other women given prime speaking slots at the convention.

But his central appeal to women was still about the economy.

"Today, women are more likely than men to start a business. They need a president who respects and understands what they do," Romney said.

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