DENVER - President Obama kicks off a two-day campaign swing through Colorado today by stoking debate over an alleged Republican war on women.
At his first stop here on a college campus, Obama will thrust the issue of women's health care back to center stage in the presidential race, casting rival Mitt Romney as out of touch with female voters and eager to "turn back the clock on decades of progress," according to his campaign.
The president will emphasize provisions in his controversial health care law that benefit women, including the requirement that insurance companies cover a host of preventive health care services, such as contraception and breast cancer screenings, free of charge. Romney has said he would repeal the law and the expanded coverage rules, which took effect for the first time last week.
Obama will get some help making his case from Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law School graduate turned women's rights activist, who earlier this year was publicly ridiculed by conservative radio talk host Rush Limbaugh for defending the contraception provisions in the health law. She will introduce the president, the campaign said.
Limbaugh in March called Fluke a "prostitute" and "slut" for testifying on Capitol Hill in favor of full insurance coverage for birth control, even if a religiously-affiliated employer objects. He later apologized, but not before igniting an impassioned public debate and intervention by Obama, who came to Fluke's defense. Democrats said Romney's reaction to the incident - saying only that Limbaugh's words were "not the language" he would have used - reflected gross insensitivity.
The joint appearance of Obama and Fluke on stage comes in the midst of an aggressive attack on Romney both online and on TV over his opposition to Planned Parenthood.
In a new Obama campaign TV ad, released Saturday in Colorado and six other battlegrounds, Romney is portrayed as "extreme" for his views and unable to "even understand the mindset of someone who has to go to Planned Parenthood."
"I think Romney would definitely drag us back," one woman in the ad says. Romney has pledged to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, which provide lower-income women with health care services, including contraception and abortion.
A web video released in conjunction with Obama's trip to Denver, features actress Elizabeth Banks discussing her personal experience with Planned Parenthood and explaining what she believes Romney does not understand about the organization.
"Yes I got birth control, but it was for my massive migraine headaches and my heavy flow. Yeah, I'm on record saying I had a heavy flow," Banks says. "And unfortunately these are not the types of things I want to discuss with my employer… They're between me and my doctor; and at the time my doctor happened to be with Planned Parenthood."
But while Obama seeks to make women's health a focus of the Colorado race, Republicans said they were determined to keep their sights on the economy.
"At the end of the day in Colorado, the selection is going to come down to the economy and whether or not the president fulfilled the mission in regard to jobs, the debt, the deficit," said Republican Rep. Cory Gardener of Colorado on a conference call Tuesday with reporters.
One measure of Colorado's economic health, the state unemployment rate, ticked up slightly to 8.2 percent in June -at the national average but showing little change over one year ago.
"The president ran at a time when the people wanted answers on the economy. He ran on the economy. He ran on the idea that he would fix the economy and everything has gotten worse so to me, that is what the election is going to come down to in Colorado and states like Colorado and all across America," he said.
Obama leads Romney among women in the latest national Gallup polling, based on a three-week rolling average, 50 to 42 percent. Romney holds the edge among men, 49 to 42 percent.
Women voters, particularly the younger, unmarried set, are seen as a critical constituency for Obama to win Colorado. In attacking Romney on women's issues, Obama is following a similar playbook used successfully by Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett in the 2010 campaign to defeat Republican candidate Ken Buck.
In addition to Denver, Obama will visit Grand Junction, Pueblo and Colorado Springs for events aimed at mobilizing voters in support of his bid for a second term.