GOP candidate Mitt Romney fumbled around Tuesday night's debate trying to reach female voters, but all he ended up with was a binder full of reasons for women to turn and run.
After bickering with debate moderator Candy Crowley of CNN, Romney pivoted away from a voter question on the Bush administration to clarify his position on contraception and women's health care coverage after what he said was a mischaracterization by President Obama.
"I — I’d just note that I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not," Romney quipped. " Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And — and the — and the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.”
The distinction on contraceptives that the president made, however, was not whether or not a woman should have access to contraceptives, but rather, who will pay for it. Obama's new health care law mandates that insurance plans cover contraceptives for women. It does not mean women must take the drugs. Romney, for the record, is against the law.
This new Romney statement that "every woman in America should have access to contraceptives," follows last week's continued muddling of the candidate's position on a series of women health issues.
After Romney appeared to soften his tone on abortion, his campaign backtracked.
Just one month ago, Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, reiterated with Orlando voters attending a town hall that the head of the ticket was committed to reversing President Obama's contraception mandate on "day one. " He called it an "assault on religious liberty."
The mandate went into effect Aug. 1 and granted an estimated 47 million women access to free contraception. The religious controversy stems from objections by religious employers (churches) that would now be required to go against moral convictions by supplying birth control to female employees. Earlier this year, the Obama administration revised the rule for these groups, so that the coverage costs for contraception now falls on shoulders of insurance companies. Many conservatives, including the Romney-Ryan ticket, say it's not enough.
Romney has already fielded criticism for flip-flopping on this issue. In February, he stumbled and came out against an amendment promoted by Senate Republicans that would allow employers to cite moral beliefs in order to opt out of the contraceptive coverage for their employees. The Romney campaign then backtracked on the candidate's statements, saying the question was "confusing" and that Romney was in fact supporting the controversial Blunt Amendment. The amendment died in the Senate in March.
Now his campaign is out with a new ad seeking to highlight Romney as a moderate on reproductive issues, and not the extremist the left has made him out to be.
Prior to the debate, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll showed growing enthusiasm for Romney among women. But, then Romney showed up at Hofstra unable to answer a question on fair pay for women without creating a new level of election season gaffes with this gem:
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women.
Before the debate was even over, Romney became the butt of Internet jokes, leaving questions to whether "binders full of women" will check his name on the ballot box.