When former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey took to MSNBC last week on behalf of Mitt Romney, she repeated a message that has been the heart of the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign: The economy is the most important issue going. More important, she said, than even women’s issues are to women.
“We need to really be talking about employment, jobs,” Healy told host Andrea Mitchell. “That’s what women care about.”
But a survey of swing state voters released Wednesday by Gallup shows that abortion ranks above jobs as the most important issue for women. Thirty-nine percent of women respondents said abortion was the most important issue, followed by jobs at 19 percent, health care at 18 percent, the economy at 16 percent, and equal rights, pay and opportunity at 15 percent.
Even if you combined the women who picked jobs and the economy, that’s still fewer than the number who said abortion was the top issue.
At a rally for President Obama on Friday in Fairfax, Va., several women told TPM they saw things like Planned Parenthood funding and abortion as among their top issues, although economic concerns were also high on the list.
Ginnie Mahoney, who works at George Mason University, said her top issues were “Social Security, Medicare and women’s issues.” She said that’s the right order because “I’m getting up there.”
Patty Masters, who also works at George Mason, said listed Planned Parenthood as her No. 1 concern. While waiting to hear the president speak, she told TPM she’s worried about what will happen to poorer women who rely on the women’s health organization. “I’m concerned about the things like Planned Parenthood and services for women that don’t have money,” she said. And that concern for the poor and middle class extends to Masters’ larger concern about Romney’s narrow view of government. “I think Romney represents money and he represents elites,” Masters said.
Erin Varley, a dedicated Obama canvasser who came to see the president, listed her top issues: “Economics, foreign policy, women’s issues — those are enormously important as well,” she said. But Varley said that as she knocks on doors in Northern Virginia, the economy is overwhelmingly the main issue.
For months, the Obama campaign has run ads on abortion and women’s health. The ads have been largely negative spots, portraying Mitt Romney as an extremist who wants to “drag” women back to the 1950s.
When asked about women’s issues, Mahoney quickly mentions these ads. She talks about Romney’s desire to defund Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade in language almost identical to the ads she’s referencing. “This is the 21st century,” Mahoney said. “We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward.”
During the second presidential debate Tuesday at Hofstra University, President Obama mentioned his support — and Romney’s opposition — to funding Planned Parenthood.
“George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood,” Obama said, suggesting his opponent was “more extreme” on social policy than the last Republican administration.
Despite downplaying it, Romney’s campaign has also acknowledged the issue. While the two candidates were slugging it out in the in the second debate, the New York Times reported the Romney campaign had released a new ad seeking to dispel the impression that Romney is “extreme” on abortion.
The spot, which the Romney campaign released without the normal press release that accompanies most ads, is airing in Virginia, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to media reports. The campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the ad buys in these states.
“You know, those ads say Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraception seemed a bit extreme, so I looked into it,” a woman identified as Sarah Minto, a Romney volunteer, says in the ad. Minto then goes on her computer to look up Romney’s position. “It turns out Romney doesn’t oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life.”
Team Obama struck back Thursday with an ad in Virginia claiming that Romney would indeed ban all abortions if given the chance.
The ad shows footage of Romney in a debate during the 2008 Republican primary, saying that he would sign a bill that bans all abortions. “Let me say it,” he says in the ad. “I’d be delighted to sign that bill.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.