Obama and Romney continue to scrap, but in key states and miles apart

David Lightman,Lesley Clark

. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, energized by their showings at a debate whose impact was still being debated, revved up eager swing state audiences on Wednesday with pointed partisan appeals.

Their Tuesday night battle in Hempstead, N.Y., reverberated throughout the political world Wednesday, and each candidate’s approach to women’s issues appeared to be responsible for some of the louder echoes.

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 from 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.”

During the debate, Romney said that when he was governor, “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 they brought us whole binders full of women."

The remark triggered an immediate explosion in social media, with blogs, Twitter postings and websites all trying to making comic or political hay out of Romney’s choice of words.

In Virginia, one of a handful of pivotal states, Romney didn’t mention the “binders” comment but 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 outside 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.

Obama, who offered a scrappier version of himself at the Tuesday night debate than he did at his first faceoff with Romney, joked in Iowa that he was still “getting a hang on this thing. We’re working on it, we’ll keep on improving.”

The president’s aggressive approach, in sharp contract to his first encounter with Romney, seemed to quell anxieties among his supporters. He spent most of his time hammering his opponent on nearly every issue that came up Tuesday night.

Obama ridiculed Romney for not providing details on what tax breaks he’d target to pay for his 20 percent cut in income tax rates, and joked that Romney’s only offerings have been “getting rid of Big Bird and ending wind energy tax credits.”

Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation staff has said that even eliminating most popular deductions would support only a 4 percent rate cut.

“You’ve heard of the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Square Deal,” Obama said. “Mitt Romney is trying to sell you a sketchy deal. You know better. We’ve been there.”

Criticized by pundits for not offering a muscular defense of his own record, Obama boasted of ending the war in Iraq, cutting middle-class tax rates, ending the don’t ask-don’t tell policy toward gays in the military, passing the 2010 federal health care overhaul and rescuing the auto industry.

His debate persona was a relief to supporters Cyndi and John Pederson, who drove from Des Moines. They said they were disappointed with Obama’s first showing.

“I think he stopped the bleeding last night,” John Pederson said. “It was a nice tourniquet. He came out swinging and at the top of his game.”

Romney’s reference to selecting women for his administration based on “binders full of women” particularly incensed Cyndi Pederson.

“What is that?” she said. “Does he have binders for African-Americans, for Asian-Americans? And did he really not know any qualified women himself?”

Appearing later in Ohio, Obama mocked Romney for casting himself as a champion of the coal industry.

"Does anybody actually look at that guy and say, ‘He’s really into coal,’" Obama said at Ohio University in Athens. "You have got to be on the level if you want to be president of the United States."

Romney spent his day in Virginia, where undecided voters could make the difference, Romney pushed hard to shore up his own conservative base. In 70-degree sunshine, the crowd sang the Pledge of Allegiance, waved American flags and was entertained by Lee Greenwood’s patriotic songs. Romney insisted that the election is “a choice between two different Americas.”

The “binders” comment didn’t bother Mechelle Bligh, a stay-at-home mother from Chesapeake.

“It tells me he’s for equal opportunity,” she said, “and that women want to go to work for him.”

The attack last month on the American consulate in Libya was on some Republicans’ minds, as well.

“Let’s face it,” said Timmie Spence, a Chesapeake retiree. “This country shouldn’t have any problem protecting our people.”

The administration is under fire after first saying the attack was incited by a video insulting to Muslims, then blaming it on a terrorist act.

“What’s troubling about this is that as we learn more about it, these facts just don’t add up,” Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Romney didn’t mention Libya in his stump speech, concentrating instead on citing his love for America with his disdain for Obama administration policies. He insisted Tuesday’s debate went well and that he was looking forward to engaging the president again Monday, when they meet for the final time in Boca Raton, Fla.

“I love these debates,” Romney said. “Don’t you think that it’s time for (Obama) to finally put together a vision of what he’d do in the next four years if he were elected? I mean, he’s got to come up with that over this weekend because there’s only one debate left on Monday.”

He made the same point before a massive rally at a park in Leesburg. “We have an agenda for our term and our agenda’s going to get this country working again,” he told a raucous crowd. If Obama gets another term, Romney predicted, the nation will have $20 trillion in debt, about $4 trillion more than now.

By David Lightman and Lesley Clark
McClatchy Newspapers