CHARLOTTE, NC — President Obama "believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care,” first lady Michelle Obama said during her speech to the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night. "That's what my husband stands for."
It was a continuation of a consistent message from women at all levels the Democratic party: This election is about the government’s right to control your body.
Earlier that day, just a few blocks away from where Mrs. Obama spoke, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley made the Republican pitch.
“Let me tell you about women. Women are extremely smart,” said Haley, the first female governor of her state. “They care about a lot more than contraception.”
Those two arguments — that the 2012 presidential election is about women’s rights, and that women’s rights are a distraction from economic factors that affect American families — have been made again and again by supporters of both parties at every level in Charlotte this week and in Tampa last week. Much has been said about 2012 being a grand debate over the federal budget, but in a 50-50 nation, the party whose narrative wins this fight may win the White House.
Delegates in Lockstep
Women delegates in Charlotte and Tampa, mostly leaders in their hometowns, are consistent in their messaging.
“This war on women is absolutely phony,” said Pat Longo, an RNC delegate and longtime Republican National Committee member from Wilton, CT, last week. “It’s strictly to distract from issues of debt, deficit and spending.”
“Wisconsin women need to realize that we need to worry about what's going on for our kids and our grandkids,” said Patty Reiman,
On the streets of Uptown Charlotte, female physiology is front and center: Planned Parenthood supporters wear pink shirts everywhere, and Austin delegate Heather Ross went so far as to walk the streets of Charlotte with a pink felt “uterus” stitched into her ballcap.
Asked what American women need from this election, delegate Grace Carrington from Coral Springs, MD, said, “Let us make our decisions for our bodies. Period.”
Miami Democratic delegate Bonnie Weiner stressed that the most important issue for her was that, “We could have our most basic and important rights taken from us.”
Diminishing Number of Undecided Women
ABC News released a poll on Tuesday suggesting Republicans were cutting into Obama’s advantage among women. Michelle Obama's speech, stressing that "at the end of the day, my most important title is still 'mom-in-chief,'" was no doubt designed to make up some of that lost ground.
But regardless of the effect of last night's speech, the army of businesswomen, moms and sisters on either side may continue to sway voters back and forth for the next 60 days.
As voting women pick sides, the best remaining opportunities may lie with women like Connecticut state Rep. Terrie Wood, a Republican who represents Darien and Norwalk in the 141st House District.
“I firmly believe social issues should be left to the individual and not to the government to decide,” Wood, who represented Connecticut as a delegate to the Republican National Convention and is a firm Romney supporter, told a Patch editor in Tampa last week. “I find a lot of women in our community register as Democrats because they’re pro-choice and they support gay rights. Well, most of us [conservative women in Connecticut] do too.”
The question is how women who share her conflicted feelings will vote.