Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama speaks at Erik and Cynnie Foss' backyard in Seattle on Thursday. The visit to Seattle was part of an effort to woo women voters to the polls.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama continued his final major campaign push before the midterms with events in Seattle and San Francisco on Thursday.
Accompanied by women who own businesses, Obama spoke in one family's backyard about the economy's effects on women, and outlined ways he said his policies have helped them, such as the first piece of legislation he signed –- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
"Things like equal pay for equal work aren't just women's issues, they're middle-class family issues," he said. "Because how well women do will help determine how well middle-class families do as a whole."
The campaign swing is part of an effort to motivate the president's base in places that Democrats often take for granted — but not this year. From Seattle, Obama flies to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Minneapolis.
"It's almost the exact opposite of 2008, when, you remember ... [Barack] Obama was forcing his Republican opponent, John McCain, to defend traditionally red states like Indiana and Virginia," NPR's Ari Shapiro told All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel. "This time, it's the exact opposite from blue, blue, blue Portland to San Francisco [on Thursday].
"You can think of this sort of as a West Coast firewall for Democrats, where turning out the base could make the difference between whether they hold on to Congress or not."
It's a last-ditch effort to prevent electoral disaster. From blunt TV ads to friendlier backyard chats, Obama and the Democrats are straining to persuade women that it's the Democrats who are on their side, and that it's in women's vital interest to turn out and vote in the Nov. 2 elections that could give Republicans control of one or both houses of Congress.
Later, at the University of Washington, Obama urged thousands of supporters to back Sen. Patty Murray over her Republican challenger, Dino Rossi.
"Patty Murray's opponent has the distinction of being the first candidate in the country to call for a repeal of Wall Street reform," he said. "Think about this! We almost had a financial meltdown that plunged America and the world into catastrophe, and he wants to go back to the old rules that got us into that problem."
With the elections less than two weeks away and Democrats fearing big losses, candidates, party allies and others are joining Obama in seeking women's votes by hitting Republican opponents — in ads, mailings and speeches — on issues such as abortion rights. In every corner of the country, they are arguing that the GOP would erase progress American women have made under Democratic control of the White House and Congress.
The latest Associated Press-GfK poll underscores the Democrats' concern: Women long have leaned toward Democrats, given economic unrest, those who are likely to vote now split fairly evenly between the two parties, with 49 percent favoring Democrats, 45 percent Republicans. That's a significant drop from 2006, when Democrats had a double-digit edge. The current margin mirrors 1994, the year of a Republican wave that swept Congress.
Men usually break for Republicans, and they broadly favor the GOP this year, too.
Women could hold the key for Obama and his party as Democrats look to minimize expected widespread losses at all levels of government in a year when, particularly on the Republican side, female candidates top ballots in statewide races in Connecticut, South Carolina, California, New Hampshire, New Mexico and elsewhere.
But in a sign of hope for the Democrats, a lot of women are undecided, and more than a third who are likely to vote say they could still change their minds before the election.
On Election Day, a week from Tuesday, women could make the difference in a couple of dozen extraordinarily close congressional races scattered across the nation, and in a half-dozen neck-and-neck Senate contests that could determine whether Republicans rise to power — among them Washington state, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Women also could affect governors' races from coast to coast, including the biggest prizes of the year in Ohio, California and Florida.
Top Democrats publicly shrug off the notion that women are fleeing the party, but the intense focus by the White House and candidates on this generally reliable constituency shows their concern.
"One of the issues that separates us from the Republican Party is our advocacy on these issues," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod. "There is a very strong case to be made for the advocacy that we've shown and for our belief that getting fair treatment for women, whether it's in the workplace, in the health care system, in obtaining capital in order to start or expand businesses."
For Democrats, the challenge over the next days is great.
Women are less tuned into the election than men, with just 54 percent of women who are likely to vote saying they have a great deal of interest, compared with 67 percent of men, according to the AP-GfK poll.
Still, nearly half of women say they want to see Democrats retain control of Congress, compared with 41 percent who would prefer the GOP. Men are the reverse.
Women likely to vote also are more inclined than men to say they trust Democrats more than Republicans — or they trust the two parties the same — on most issues tested, including creating jobs.
And 54 percent of women likely to vote say they'd like to see their own House member re-elected.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report