By Steve Holland
PROVIDENCE R.I. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, hoping for a strong turnout from female voters for Democratic candidates in congressional and gubernatorial elections next week, put women in the spotlight on Friday at an economic-focused event in Rhode Island.
Obama has made only a handful of appearances on the campaign trail for the mid-term elections in addition to a series of fundraising swings, but his limited public stops have been aimed at shoring up support among key Democratic constituents including African Americans.
Friday's event was focused on women, whose support helped elect him to the White House in 2012 and whose votes he needs to help Democrats hold on to control of the U.S. Senate and a handful of governors' mansions across the country.
At the Rhode Island event, Obama honed in on a favorite topic, equal pay for women. He mixed in familiar stories about growing up with a single mom and a grandmother who was passed over for promotions in favor of men she had trained at the bank where she worked.
"So while many women are working hard to support themselves and their families, they’re still facing unfair choices, outdated workplace policies. That holds them back, but it also holds all of us back," he said.
"We have to do better, because women deserve better."
Obama was in the state to support Gina Raimondo, who is in a tight competition for governor with Republican Allan Fung. First lady Michelle Obama has also campaigned for Raimondo, who is ahead of her opponent by 4 points according to an average of polls by RealClearPolitics.
The president met with women business owners and working mothers at the event and noted that Rhode Island was one of three states where paid family leave was written into the law.
"And if a woman is doing the same work as a man, she deserves to get paid just like the man does," he said to applause. "Even though it’s 2014, there are women still earning less than men for doing the same work. And women of color face an even greater wage gap."
After the event, Obama made a stop at a local restaurant along with Raimondo, ordering a cheeseburger for himself and a chocolate layer cake for his staff.
"Has everybody voted?" he asked employees.
One patron asked him about running for a third term.
"You'd have to argue with Michelle about that, setting aside the Constitution," Obama quipped. The U.S. Constitution limits presidents to serving 2 four-year terms.
(additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by David Gregorio)