Obama shifts focus to build on gender gap

President Obama commands a huge polling advantage over Mitt Romney among women, and he’s keeping his foot on the GOP front-runner’s neck by expanding his efforts to appeal to women voters.

On Friday, flanked by women business leaders from across the country, the president spoke to an enthusiastic and predominantly female crowd at a White House Forum on Women in the Economy.

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“I want to make sure that every agency across my administration considers the needs of women and girls in every decision they make,” Obama said. “There’s been a lot of talk about women and women’s issues lately, as there should be, but I think the conversation has been oversimplified. Women are not some monolithic voting bloc, women are not an interest group. You shouldn’t be treated that way.”

It was a friendly environment for the president, and he kept it light while discussing the importance of female figures in his life, equality in the workplace, and how he believes his economic policies, as well as the Affordable Care Act, have positively impacted women.

“It is a pleasure to be surrounded by so many talented, accomplished women,” Obama said. “It makes me feel right at home, although usually, I’ve got my wingman Bo with me.”

A number of high ranking officials and some television personalities were on hand, raising the profile of the event, which was also streamed live online.

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett kicked off the proceedings; the first panel was conducted by MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski; National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling was in attendance; and breakout sessions were led by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

The forum coincided with a report released on Friday from the White House Council on Women and Girls on “the importance of restoring the economic security for the middle class and creating an economy that’s built to last for America’s women.”

The president leads Romney by 9 percent overall in 12 key swing states, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll released this week, and the difference is almost entirely due to the gender gap. Romney holds a 1 percent lead among men, while Obama leads by 18 percent among women.
 
Democrats made a play for women voters in the aftermath of the February controversy over contraception, arguing that Republicans are waging a “war on women” in ads and fundraising pitches.

Republicans are calling this messaging push a politically charged ploy to exploit the gender gap, and say Friday’s White House forum is nothing more than a glorified campaign event.

The administration pushed back at the criticism.
 
“These kinds of conferences help to focus the energies of an administration on specific initiatives and legislation, to focus attention on issues of importance, and we’ll continue to do that,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said at a briefing on Thursday.
 
Senior administration officials would not, however, say when the forum was planned — only that the report had been in the works for a year and that it was decided that the forum would be a good way to get the information out.
 
Still, the implications are undeniable — the GOP nominee will not be able to win the general election if the present gender gap persists.
 
On Friday, Republicans turned the economic argument back on the president.
 
“Across America, women are feeling the pain of the weak economy — in the job market and at the kitchen table,” said Republican National Committee Co-Chairwoman Sharon Day in a statement. "Wives are worried about shrinking wages and rising prices as they try to make ends meet. Mothers fear for their children’s futures as the national debt skyrockets and college becomes unaffordable. Businesswomen are frustrated by the regulations and economic policies that make hiring impossible.”
 
Rather than seizing on Friday’s jobs numbers as a whole, which came in worse than expected, the RNC focused on how women fared in the labor market.
 
“As today’s jobs report shows, unemployment remains much too high,” Day continued. “The number of employed women declined last month and the number who have dropped out of the labor force increased. For far too long women have been left behind in Obama’s job market. Of the 740,000 jobs lost since Obama took office, 683,000 of them were held by women. That is truly unsustainable.”
 
“President Obama and his fellow Democrats love to say they stand for women, but women can no longer stand the Obama economy. Women deserve better, and in November we will hold him accountable,” Day said.

Updated at 2:49 p.m.