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Is Obama Losing the War For Women?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
If there’s one consistent strategy Barack Obama’s reelection campaign has pursued, it’s trying to mobilize women on his behalf with rallying cries of free birth control. His tactics have ranged from declaring a literal ‘war on women,’ to evangelizing Hollywood actresses like Scarlett Johansson to blanketing television with ads admonishing women to be
‘scared’ of Mitt Romney.

Initially, it looked like Team Obama’s relentless assault might pay off, as women – who broke for the President by 13 percent in 2008 – continued to line up behind him in early polling. However, the latest USA Today/Gallup survey, released Monday, shows that his strategy of telling women which issues they are and are not supposed to care about is meeting with diminishing returns, as Mitt Romney pulls even with Obama among women in the swing states likely to decide the election:

As the presidential campaign heads into its final weeks, the survey of voters in 12 crucial swing states finds female voters much more engaged in the election and increasingly concerned about the deficit and debt issues that favor Romney. The Republican nominee has pulled within one point of the president among women who are likely voters, 48%-49%, and leads by 8 points among men.

Several months ago, I wrote that Chicago’s strategy of forcing women to be single-issue voters, telling them in ad after ad that they should base their vote solely on access to contraceptives and abortion, could easily backfire as issue-based surveys showed that women – like any other voters – consistently named jobs and the economy as the most important issues in this election.

I’m relieved – but not surprised – to see that women are rejecting
self-important lectures from out-of-touch celebrities in favor of a candidate who addresses them like fellow citizens and discerning voters, not the gals of Sex and the City.

Contrast Obama’s approach to that of Mitt Romney and Republican-affiliated groups. The Romney campaign’s most recent ad aimed at women features a female small business owner citing the 450,000 additional unemployed women under Obama as her reasoning for switching her vote in this election. A new television ad released today by Super PAC American Crossroads addresses the stimulus and the national debt from a woman’s perspective. Which approach shows greater respect for women: a serious and substantive discussion about the economy, or Eva Longoria talking about birth control?

Barack Obama and his campaign have made the fatal mistake of assuming that because women have historically responded to emotional appeals they don’t care about substance. They have assumed that because likability matters to women, its all they care about. Its that mentality that leads a President of the United States to snub foreign leaders but chat up Joy Behar on The View, to blow off debate prep but brush up on Nicki Minaj vs. Mariah Carey.

When one looks at the advisors and confidantes that Obama surrounds himself with, this one-dimensional view of women makes more sense. The women closest to the President – with the possible exception of the strangely under-utilized Michelle Obama – are shallow Hollywood types and colorless yes-men (or rather, yes-women) like Valerie Jarrett. The Obama campaign’s only paid female spokesperson is the unlikable and incompetent Stephanie Cutter.

Team Obama knows they have to win women by a substantial margin in order to secure victory on November. Given the Gallup numbers, it seems certain that Barack Obama will enter tonight’s debate looking to appeal directly to female voters. No one can empathize quite like Bill ‘I feel your pain’ Clinton, but Obama will surely try. But I predict that Obama will once again fail to realize that women struggling in a tough economy may appreciate both substance and style, but when push comes to shove, most will choose substance.

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