President Obama needs women. He lost a nine point lead over Mitt Romney among women after last week’s debate, and they’re now tied at 47%. Women not only make up more of the electorate than men, but they also come out to vote in larger numbers. After Obama’s lackluster performance and subsequent favorability drop in the polls, it seems that tapping into this crucial bloc could serve him well. If Biden puts women at the top of his list for voters to win over tomorrow night, he would be up against a great person to do it: Paul Ryan.
The left has been trying to paint Paul Ryan as an ideological nutcase all along. His energetic demeanor and air of cool charisma, though, make it a less powerful strategy than painting Romney as an evil corporate mastermind. Biden should underscore this discrepancy most with Ryan’s voting record on women — particularly a personhood amendment seeking to give a fertilized egg the same legal rights as a person and a House measure in which he changed "rape" to "forcible rape."
If, of course, the vice presidential debates go anything like the first presidential debate (and the campaign in general up until now), Ryan may try to dismiss these issues to instead talk about his budget plan and jobs.
This, though, may be where Biden’s potential strength lies: birth control and abortion. Many women have been begging to be recognized by someone, anyone, who understands that women's issues are financial issues, especially for single women. Unplanned children are expensive, but they can also derail career plans and ruin a young woman’s chance at upward mobility. And the failure to understand this can point not only to the detrimental effects that the absence of women in this election has had, but also to a failure to understand what economics means in the context of the middle class, and in the context of individual and family lives. At least 60% of women who have abortions are women with children already. Why? Because they can’t afford another.
Romney’s corporate success and Ryan’s budget that shot him to Congress stardom both reflect a real aptitude with numbers and a real understanding of economic realities, but neither necessarily reflects an understanding of how those economics factor into most people’s lives. In fact, brushing off women’s reproductive concerns to continually emphasize that only jobs matter is not only condescending, it’s not accurate. Children and reproductive issues are the focal point of women’s issues, and they also happen to be very legitimate financial concerns for families and women.
Women voters have gone Democrat since the 1992 presidential election when younger women, poorer women, and educated upper-middle-class women joined forces behind liberal objectives. But the Romney campaign has done its best to distract from any issues aside from the economy; and, of course, Obama let him do just that in last week’s debate. Obama lost his lead in the polls, and he has, very importantly, lost his lead among women.
Biden’s task is two-fold: he needs to remind women of the regressive stances taken by his challenger in this regard, and also remind everyone of the importance of not separating the economy from just about every other stance the candidates have taken. The Romney campaign has been focusing on the economy from the beginning to rouse fear and portray themselves as the ones truly equipped to bring on a real recovery. Of course, it’s the best strategy a challenger could use during tough economic times. But it’s dangerous to let the economy eclipse any other issues, especially when they’re as damaging to one group as Ryan’s policies toward women are. Whether Biden, who is not known for a flawless delivery, can pull all of that off in one night remains to be seen on Thursday night.