The day after a combative debate, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney rekindled their arguments half a nation apart while making direct appeals for the votes of women.
“This president has failed America’s women,” Romney said in Virginia, adding that they want assurances about the future of the economy “and the answers are coming from us, and not Barack Obama.”
The president, speaking almost simultaneously in Iowa, criticized Romney’s call to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides women’s health services, including contraception, cancer screening and abortion. Obama also said Romney failed to address a question about equal pay for women in last night’s debate.
“I want my daughters paid just like somebody else’s sons are paid for the same job,” he told a crowd at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Virginia and Iowa are two of the states over which both campaigns are battling in the Nov. 6 election.
About 61 million viewers tuned in to last night’s debate coverage on cable and broadcast television, just 9 percent fewer than the 67.2 million who watched their first encounter on Oct. 3 in Denver, according to Nielsen data released today by media outlets.
The subtext of much of last night’s debate in Hempstead, New York, was a pitch by both men for female voters, a crucial constituency. The majority of women who voted in 2008, 56 percent, cast ballots for Obama, according to exit polls conducted for television networks.
With both campaigns expecting a close election, Romney is seeking to cut Obama’s advantage. Results from Gallup’s tracking polls on Oct. 9-15 show Obama’s support among women at 53 percent to Romney’s 47 percent. Romney has 57 percent support from men to Obama’s 43 percent.
Gallup’s daily tracking poll shows Romney has overtaken Obama among both likely voters and registered voters. The Republican has steadily opened a lead over Obama with likely voters since the start of the month and is ahead 51 percent to 45 percent in the survey released today. Among registered voters, Romney has a 48 percent to 46 percent advantage, his first lead with that group since August. The polls were taken on Oct. 10-16 and have margins of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Obama emphasized his commitment to women’s issues today by making reference to Romney’s description last night of his efforts to hire women for his administration when he became governor of Massachusetts. His statement that he had “whole binders full of women” presented to him for consideration has become a theme for Internet posts and parodies.
“I’ve got to tell you, we don’t have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women,” Obama said.
The two men also accused each other today of having the wrong vision for the nation.
Obama, 51, told the college crowd that Romney is “trying to sell you a sketchy deal” when it comes to his tax and spending plans. “Once again, he refused to tell us how he’s going to pay for it.”
Romney, 65, said the president “still doesn’t have an agenda for a second term.”
In “20 days, we decide what kind of an America we’re going to have,” Romney said to his audience in Chesapeake, Virginia. “Twenty days, we’re going to decide how much debt we’re going to leave to our kids. Twenty days, we decide if we want a real recovery or not.”
Last night’s town-hall-style debate took on added importance for Obama after polls showed he lost the first showdown on Oct. 3, giving Romney’s campaign a surge of energy and momentum. Thirty-seven percent of the 525 uncommitted voters in a CBS News poll said Obama was the victor last night, while 30 percent said Romney was, and a third called it a draw.
Today’s appearances mark the start of a burst of campaigning this week before both return to debate preparation this weekend for their final face-off Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Florida.
As he has repeatedly done this year, Obama is visiting college campuses -- in Ohio as well as Iowa -- as he seeks to re-stoke the enthusiasm he enjoyed in 2008 among young voters.
Reflecting the importance of this period in the race are the surrogates Obama’s campaign is deploying. Former President Bill Clinton and rock legend Bruce Springsteen will appear together at a campaign event in Parma, Ohio. Springsteen then will head to Iowa on behalf of the Obama campaign.
Romney was joined by comedian Dennis Miller and singer Lee Greenwood in Virginia.
Iowa, Ohio and Virginia were won by Obama in 2008 and have a history of voting for either party’s presidential nominees.
The president and his campaign are urging students to register and take advantage of early voting, which started in Iowa on Sept. 27 and in Ohio on Oct. 2. In total, six of the nine top battleground states will have early, in-person voting under way by the time the final debate starts.
All three states the two men are campaigning in today have unemployment rates lower than September’s national average of 7.8 percent. In Iowa, the rate was 5.5 percent in August, while in Ohio it was 7.2 percent in August. In Virginia, the rate was 5.9 percent in August.
Obama’s trip to Iowa, which has just six of the 270 electorate votes needed to win, was his ninth this year, a reflection of the importance the campaign is placing on securing every possible electoral vote. Four years ago, Iowa gave Obama an almost 10-percentage-point victory.
The incumbent leads Romney in Iowa, 48.8 percent to 46.5 percent, in an average of four state polls conducted Sept. 23 through Oct. 15 as compiled by the website Real Clear Politics.
The president also traveled today to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Romney, who has struggled to match Obama in that state’s polls, spent much of last week there.
No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes. Romney could win without Ohio, although it would leave him little margin. In one scenario he would have to win Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia as well as either New Hampshire or Wisconsin.