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Fight for female voters will continue at DNC; reopening 'old wounds'?

Lineup of prominent speakers to cast president as an advocate for women

CHARLOTTE, N.C. “I love women!” Ann Romney gushed last week at a Republican convention dedicated at times to winning over female voters – a group that has long preferred Democrats.

Even the GOP men reached out, spending some of their speaking time on emotional salutes to their mothers.

Now it’s the Democrats’ turn. And judging by the women-in-the-news invited to speak in Charlotte, the Obama campaign will pitch female voters by casting the president as an advocate for women – and his opponents as defenders of a benighted past.

Among those on the roster of speakers in Charlotte:

• Lilly Ledbetter. A victim of past discrimination, she is the namesake of the first bill Obama signed into law, which requires that women get equal pay for the same work.

• Sandra Fluke. She’s the Georgetown University student called a “slut” this year by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh after backing a provision in Obama’s health care plan calling for coverage of contraception.

• Cecile Richards. She’s president of Planned Parenthood, whose funding for women’s health screenings was cut, then restored, this year in what appeared to be a flap over abortion.

The Obama campaign hopes this political trip down memory lane will cement its relationship with women at a time when polls suggest every vote will matter in November.

“They want to reopen old wounds and offer reminders of the big (events) that enraged women,” said Mary Grabe, an Indiana University professor whose specialty is elections.

Speaking of anger, Democratic speakers will likely find it hard to resist invoking the name of Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate in Missouri who, just weeks ago, told an interviewer that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t usually get pregnant.

His comments brought a chorus of condemnations, including from Mitt Romney and other high-profile Republicans. But Democrats have since pointed out that the GOP platform passed last week made no exceptions for rape and incest in its call to ban abortions.

This idea that Obama and his party have women’s back – as Democratic Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz put it in an interview – was a main theme for female delegates in Charlotte for the convention.

So was the flip side: The fear that a Republican victory would jeopardize gains women have made.

“We’ve fought too long and too hard to let a small group of narrow-minded Republicans turn back the clock,” N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall told members of the National Women’s Political Caucus at a Sunday rally at Ri Ra’s pub uptown. “It’s time to fight!”

During a Monday interview at the Charlotte Convention Center, Iowa delegate Andrea Nemecek, a 20-year-old student at Grinnell College, echoed that view, saying that women were looking for a president who would stand up for their rights and that Obama has “time and time again.”

She said those watching the convention from home would see “a lot of strong, independent women who worked really hard to get where they are today. And they don’t want to go back.”

Other speakers will also demonstrate how much women have become leaders in a Democratic Party that requires 50 percent of all delegates to be female.

Besides Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from Florida, speakers will include House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi – the first-ever female speaker of the House – and, in a marquee slot Wednesday night, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.

“Our convention will reflect a basic fact: Democrats don’t just talk about women’s issues – we have acted to strengthen and advance the rights and health of America’s women,” Pelosi said.

Added Wasserman Schultz: Unlike the Republican wooing of women, the Democrats’ commitment to women’s issues “is not new, and it’s not pretend.”

Not fair, say Republicans, who point out that their lineup of female speakers last week included governors, senators, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

And if Obama and the Democrats really cared about women, said U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., they’d fix the economy.

“The real war on women is that they can’t get jobs, can’t make their mortgages and are working a lot harder for a lot less money under this president,” she said.

The Democrats’ answer?

They will contend that Obama’s approach – including investing in education and ending health insurance companies’ discrimination against women – has done more for women’s economic well-being that any GOP plan.

“We saved millions of teachers’ jobs,” Wasserman Schultz said. “(And) in the Affordable Care Act, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.”

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