ANALYSIS: Campaigns Spar Over What Women Want

PHOTO: President Barack Obama, left, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney confront each other during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University on Oct. 16, 2012, in Hempstead, N.Y.
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Mitt Romney and President Obama spent much of Wednesday battling for the support of women voters — a form of electoral hand-to-hand combat that is likely to persist all the way to Nov. 6.

As Time Magazine's Michael Scherer put it, "there was no doubt about the winner of the second presidential debate: Women. Both candidates lurched onto the campaign trail Wednesday with new appeals to shore up support among a key demographic that may decide the outcome in key swing states."

And ABC News political analyst Nicolle Wallace said on "Good Morning America" today that "all women are making trade-offs with both of these guys. I don't think men — but particularly women — were attracted to the nastiness in that debate. Women, more than men, are turned off when it gets below the belt."

Pivoting off of his debate performance, ABC's Devin Dwyer notes that President Obama opened up a new line of attack against Romney over his comment during Tuesday night's debate that he relied on "whole binders full of women" — binders prepared by women's groups — to help select female cabinet members when he was governor of Massachusetts.

"I've got to tell you, we don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women," Obama said, speaking about the need to employ more teachers.

The Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus issued a statement Wednesday noting the group's role in helping Romney identify more women to join his administration, but here's the rub, according to a statement from the organization: "Prior to the 2002 election, women comprised approximately 30 percent of appointed senior-level positions in Massachusetts government. By 2004, 42 percent of the new appointments made by the Romney administration were women. Subsequently, however, from 2004-2006 the percentage of newly-appointed women in these senior appointed positions dropped to 25 percent."

ABC News Political Director Amy Walter notes, these binders could have, ahem, legs if Democrats push ahead on reports that the number of women in Romney's administration dropped precipitously in the second half of his tenure.

And that wasn't the only controversy of the day. Less than 24-hours after Tuesday night's debate, a top adviser to Romney's campaign switched his statement about whether the Republican presidential candidate would have supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act before it was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2009.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Romney aide Ed Gillespie said that Romney "was opposed to" the proposed legislation "at the time," but that he would not repeal it if elected. Those comments were first reported by the Huffington Post, but it appears Gillespie got ahead of the candidate. In a follow-up statement sent to the Huffington Post Wednesday afternoon, he acknowledged that he misstated Romney's position.

"I was wrong when I said last night Governor Romney opposed the Lily Ledbetter act," according to the statement from Gillespie. "He never weighed in on it. As president, he would not seek to repeal it."

Campaigning in Athens, Ohio, on Wednesday evening, the president brought up the Romney campaign's changing statements on the Ledbetter Act, saying, "Just today his campaign admitted, well, he's never weighed in on that. What's so hard about weighing in on that? Either you believe in equal pay, or you don't."

But there's a rub for Obama too: Notably, equal pay for women has not improved significantly during President Obama's first term, but the Lilly Ledbetter Act has helped some victims of discrimination pursue their compensation claims in the courts, women's rights advocates say.

ABC's Devin Dwyer contributed reporting from Iowa and Ohio.

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