President Obama's campaign is dispatching women to the front lines of its battle over health care reform this week as the president prepares for an election-year showdown not just with the nation's highest court, but with Republican foes hoping to use the issue to knock Obama from office in the fall.
Obama's campaign has organized a "Women's Week of Action," a nationwide string of house parties, rallies and phone banks to help defend the president's signature legislative accomplishment. The effort comes just as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to review the law's constitutionality and eight months before voters will decide whether Obama deserves a second term.
In linking women and health care, the Obama campaign is addressing two critical issues the president faces this fall: the need to rally female voters to his campaign and the necessity of defending the landmark issue of Obama's first term.
"Women are going to make the difference in this election," Kate Chapek, Obama's director of women's outreach, wrote in a recent email. "There's a simple reason: We have the most on the line, especially when it comes to health care and our ability to make our own health decisions."
Obama in February helped make his new health care reforms an issue for women by announcing that church-affiliated organizations, including hospitals, schools and charities, would have to pay for birth control under employee health plans even if the use of contraceptives violates their religious beliefs. Republicans denounced the order as a violation of religious liberty and Obama softened the requirement, but his campaign shot back that Republicans had declared a "war on women."
"All of this will be on the line in November," Chapek wrote to women voters, "that's why we need your help, starting now."
Women overwhelmingly backed Obama over Republican nominee John McCain in 2008. But that support began to evaporate over Obama's first term, dropping to about 45 percent in November. Since the president started hammering Republicans on women's issues and Republican presidential candidates fueled women's concerns with attacks on contraceptives and Planned Parenthood funding, however, female support for Obama jumped to 51 percent, Gallup polls show.
The Democratic National Committee has fanned the discontent among women with email blasts and a million mailers over the past three weeks warning women that their livelihoods and rights are at stake, and that Republicans seeking to restrict access to contraceptives and abortion are "dangerous."
"In Mitt Romney's ever-lengthening quest to appeal to the far right wing of the Republican Party, he has taken positions on women's health care that are dangerous and out of step with most Americans," reads one Democratic email, citing the Republican presidential front-runner. "American women are drawing the same conclusion: Mitt Romney is wrong for women."
The Obama campaign's outreach to women is "more offensive than defensive" -- an effort to capitalize on "this giant gift that has been delivered to them by their opponents," according to Matt Bennett, vice president of Third Way, a centrist group with close ties to the White House.
"They view the Republican race and missteps by Republicans around the country [on women's health care] as a real opportunity for them to reconnect with women and underscore for women what's at stake in this race," Bennett said.