Obama plays on gender gap in speech to women

WASHINGTON -- With polls showing that support from women gives him an edge over Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama used a White House conference Friday to tout his administration's work on women's issues and warn that Republicans would erase the achievements.

Though he never mentioned Romney -- or the word Republican -- in his 20-minute speech, Obama cautioned an auditorium of female entrepreneurs, academics and business leaders against returning "to the policies that got us into so many of the problems that we've been dealing with in the first place. That's what's at stake."

"When it comes to our efforts on behalf of women and girls, I'm proud of the accomplishments that we can point to," he said. He cited the first bill he signed into law, making it easier for women to demand equal pay, along with efforts to boost the number of girls taking science and math classes. "We've got a lot more to do. But there's no doubt we've made progress."

Citing his signature healthcare law -- which Republicans have vowed to repeal -- Obama charged that "they're not just saying we should stop protecting women with pre-existing conditions. They're also saying we should kick about a million young women off their parents' healthcare plans."

His remarks at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy came as Romney tightened his grip on the GOP nomination this week and as polls indicate that Obama is benefiting from the national debate over access to contraceptives.

A USA Today/Gallup poll this week found Obama leading Romney among women by 18 points in 12 key battleground states. A McClatchy-Marist national poll found Obama leading Romney among female voters by 48 percent to 42 percent.

Romney, who was asked about the gender gap when he spoke before the American Society of Newspaper Editors on Wednesday, said Democrats have done an "effective job" of "trying to mischaracterize" the GOP stance on women's issues.

Romney added that he expects to attract both men and women by focusing on "the issues that women and men care most about" -- namely, the economy.