Obama re-election campaign courting women voters

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is beginning an intensified effort this week to build support among women, using the debate over the new health care law to amplify an appeal that already appears to be benefiting from partisan clashes over birth control and abortion.

On Monday, mailings will go out to 1 million women in more than a dozen battleground states in three separate versions for mothers, young women and older women, Democratic Party officials said.

An effort called "Nurses for Obama" will begin Wednesday, with nurses nationwide enlisted to be advocates for the health care law in their communities. And a new website will include links to video testimonials about the health care overhaul signed by Mr. Obama in 2010, including from a former critic who subsequently was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Through the month, ending with what the campaign's headquarters has designated a "Women's Week of Action," campaign field offices will organize phone banks, campus activities, house parties and media events featuring local residents helped by the law, officials say.

The campaign is trying to use the political climate to regain the traditional Democratic advantage among women, even as moderate Republican and independent women voice disenchantment with the Republican focus on social issues.

Women were 53 percent of the national vote in 2008, and given Mr. Obama's and his party's ongoing weakness among white men, they are crucial to his re-election. While Mr. Obama won 56 percent of their votes four years ago, women narrowly went for Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections that cost Democrats control of the House.

The campaign's effort to rally women around the health care law had been long planned, campaign officials said. But the effort has gained intensity, the officials and local volunteers say, because of recent controversies over contraception, abortion and education in Washington and in state capitals that have energized people in the campaign's far-flung field offices who are essential to putting any national strategy into action.

Some Republicans say the current debate over social issues will fade soon, trumped by concerns about the economy and high gasoline prices. But other Republicans are worried.

"The whole party's image has taken a beating," said John Feehery, a public affairs consultant in Washington and a senior aide to congressional Republican leaders through the 1990s. Mr. Feehery called a recent essay on his website that offered advice to other Republicans, "Listen to Your Wife."

Both parties date the current focus on reproductive issues to flaps in January over a decision by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure cancer foundation, subsequently reversed, to stop contributing to Planned Parenthood, and a mandate from the Obama administration that employers, including religious-affiliated hospitals, colleges and other institutions, cover contraception in employees' insurance policies.

Then came controversies over Rush Limbaugh's slurs against a female advocate of the contraception policy; actions in Texas, Virginia and other state legislatures against abortion and Planned Parenthood; and statements of Republican presidential candidates. The Obama campaign intends to make a long-running issue its claim that Mitt Romney, who is widely expected to become the nominee, endorsed anti-abortion groups' proposed "personhood amendments" outlawing all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest, and some birth control measures, though the Romney campaign disputes that.

Mr, Obama has had his own political balancing act over the issues. Women's groups had opposed any exemption from the requirement under the health care law that insurance policies cover birth control, but Mr. Obama from the start exempted churches and other houses of worship. He did, however, require schools, hospitals and other organizations affiliated with religious groups to cover contraception. When that ignited a furor, Mr. Obama quickly modified it in a compromise with supportive Catholic groups.

A New York Times/CBS News poll in mid-February showed that women, who in a January poll had disapproved of Mr. Obama's job performance by a 48 percent-to-46 percent margin, now approved of him by 53 percent to 38 percent (men disapproved by 49 percent to 45 percent, about the same as the previous month).



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