President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, energized by their showings at a debate whose impact was still being debated, vied aggressively for the support of female voters Wednesday, as they and their running mates charged across nearly a half-dozen battleground states with 20 days left in the close race for the White House.
Obama's forces pounded their Republican challenger on his assertion during the debate that he had "binders full of women" to choose from for state jobs while governor of Massachusetts.
In Mount Vernon, Iowa, Obama was introduced by a college junior who is majoring in English and women's studies. The president spoke enthusiastically in a steamy gym, a pink breast cancer bracelet flashing on his right wrist.
He referred to Romney's "binder" remark and earned a roar as he talked about boosting spending on education. He said that "we don't need a bunch of 'binders' to find qualified, talented women willing to teach."
In Virginia, one of a handful of pivotal states, Romney hammered at Obama for promoting a badly flawed plan for fixing the ailing economy. Speaking to a cheering crowd of about 3,500 at an outdoor rally at Tidewater Community College, the Republican nominee countered that Obama has no coherent plan for helping women survive the struggling economy.
"This president has failed America's women," Romney said, citing economic data showing more women without jobs and in poverty than when Obama took office.
There was little mystery in the candidates' concentration on female voters. An AP-GfK survey taken in mid September, when Obama was leading in the opinion polls, found that 8 percent of all likely votes were women who were either undecided or said they might change their minds.
Polls since the first debate two weeks ago show gains for Romney among women, a shift that Obama can ill afford given the traditional Republican advantage among men.
Information from Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.