WASHINGTON — After months on the defensive over his health law, a more combative President Barack Obama has emerged to fight about gender politics, leading to an election-year competition with Republicans for support from women.
No single group will be more important to Democrats' fortunes, say White House advisers, than unmarried women, who are likely to go Democratic — if they vote, and that's far from certain when trust in Washington is low.
The president is trying to convince women that Democrats are more concerned about improving their financial standing in difficult economic times, and he charges Republicans with standing in the way. "Republicans in Congress have been gumming up the works," he said at White House event on equal pay.
"This isn't just about treating women fairly. This is about Republicans seemingly opposing any efforts to even the playing field for working families," Obama said.
Republicans say they have learned important lessons from previous elections where women helped put Obama and other Democrats in office. This year, the GOP is promising an aggressive counterattack.
The Republican National Committee plans to a new initiative, "14 in '14," to recruit and train women under age 40 to help spread the party's message in the final 14 weeks of the campaign.
Representatives from all the party committees — the RNC and those supporting GOP candidates for Senate, House, governors and state legislators — meet regularly to plan strategy and advise candidates.
They are encouraging candidates to include their wives and daughters in campaign ads, have women at their events and build a Facebook-like internal database of women willing to campaign on their behalf.
Responding to Obama's equal pay event, Republicans cried hypocrisy and pointed out that women on average make less than men on the White House staff. When the Senate voted on an equal pay measure the next day, every Republican voted no and said the law already protects women from being paid less than men.