Presidential candidate Mitt Romney intensified his efforts Wednesday to rebut claims that he and fellow Republicans are insufficiently supportive of women, or even hostile to them.
For the second straight day, the presumptive GOP nominee campaigned at a female-owned work site, and denounced Democrats for saying his party is waging "a war on women."
"The real war on women is being waged by the president's failed economic policies," Romney told a crowd packed inside Alpha Graphics, in Hartford, Conn. There, and on Tuesday at a women-owned steel fabrication plant in Delaware, Romney said President Barack Obama's economic policies have disproportionately hurt women.
The events were scheduled before Rick Santorum's unexpected withdrawal removed the last serious barrier to Romney's nomination pursuit. They underscored Romney's sensitivity to Democrats' efforts to link him to controversial GOP-led efforts to limit birth control insurance coverage for women in some workplaces, among other things.
Polls have found a growing "gender gap" in the presidential race. Obama's advantage among women is outpacing Romney's edge among men.
While he spoke in Hartford, Romney's campaign issued statements from Republican women in Congress defending his record. But a conference call with reporters arranged by his campaign hit a snag when aides were asked whether Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Act to help women achieve equal pay, the first piece of legislation Obama signed.
"We'll get back to you on that," campaign policy director Lanhee Chen said after a pause.
Democrats gleefully publicized the exchange. They glossed over the fact that the issue was divisive, and Romney would be in line with many GOP lawmakers if he opposed the measure. The 2009 law makes it easier for women to file workplace pay-discrimination cases.
Romney repeated his assertion that women account for 92 percent of those who have lost jobs during Obama's presidency. While that statistic is accurate, it overlooks the fact that more men than women lost jobs early in the Great Recession. The record downturn began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, covering approximately President George W. Bush's last year in office and Obama's first half-year.
Romney's claim also counts job losses in the first two months of 2009, when the newly inaugurated Obama had scant time to redirect the economy. Government figures show that some 3.4 million men and 1.8 million women have lost jobs since the recession began.
In Hartford, Romney said Obama pursues policies that make it "hard to be a woman in business." He quickly broadened the criticism to all business owners.
"This president has failed American women," Romney said. He vowed to cut corporate taxes and government regulations, which he said would increase job growth for everyone.
Romney is drawing overflow crowds this week, and he briefly spoke in hallways at both of Wednesday's events to people who could not squeeze into the main venue.
In Warwick, R.I., Romney fielded questions from an audience of several hundred, including one query about immigration and border security.
He said Republicans are "the pro-immigration party" and are eager to stop illegal immigration and make room for legal entries. If a foreigner earns an advanced degree and wants to move to the United States, he said, "I'd stick a green card in their diploma."
Associated Press writers Andrew Miga and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.