Different paths to win women's votes

It's women's week on the presidential campaign trail, judging from the attention that Barack Obama and John McCain are lavishing on female voters and issues especially important to them.

Obama, campaigning here Thursday with former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, criticized McCain's opposition to an equal-pay Senate bill, his support for conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices and his abortion-rights objections.

“I will never back down in defending a woman's right to choose,” Obama said at a “Women for Obama” breakfast fundraiser.

McCain, the Republican from Arizona, planned a similar day today when he will meet with female business owners in Minnesota and hold a women-oriented town-hall meeting in Wisconsin. Asked about women in an interview this week, McCain said he wants to “make sure that any barriers to their advancement are eliminated.”

Obama makes similar remarks, but the two differ sharply on their approach to several key issues. Obama would require employers to expand family and medical leave, for example, while McCain said Thursday it should “be subject to negotiations between management and labor.”

“Senator Obama believes that big government is the answer,” he said.

Women, who tend to make their choices somewhat later than men in presidential races according to some surveys, have been a coveted group for decades. Previous elections have focused on “soccer moms” and “security moms,” for instance.

Women have leaned Democratic in recent elections, while men have tilted Republican. The width of the “gender gap” can determine which party wins the White House.

On Thursday, Obama cited recent Senate legislation designed to counteract a Supreme Court decision limiting the time workers have to file pay discrimination lawsuits. Obama said McCain “thinks the Supreme Court got it right.”

“He suggested that the reason women don't have equal pay isn't discrimination on the job – it's because they need more education and training,” Obama said, eliciting groans from the audience.

Obama backed the Senate legislation that would have made it easier for women to sue their employers for pay discrimination. McCain opposed it, saying at the time: “I am all in favor of pay equity for women, but this kind of legislation … opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems.”

Asked this week what he could do to attract more female voters, McCain said: “I don't have a specific policy at the moment, except to, again, I think my support of small business and the fact that I will not raise people's taxes. One of the greatest areas of participation of women in America is small business.”

The two candidates differ sharply on abortion rights, which McCain has long opposed. Obama says McCain would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision affirming a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.