OCALA, Fla. - The courting of female voters has intensified since Mitt Romney and Barack Obama's debate Tuesday, with the candidates pivoting to focus on women after Romney's "binders full of women" comment, as well as some waffling by a Romney senior adviser on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was even asked about jobs for women at his town hall here Thursday.
In a steamy town square here in Florida, Ryan was asked by a female attendee if his ticket had "any plan in place for jobs specifically for women."
He immediately answered much as his running mate has in the past: "Get the economy growing, number one."
Tuesday night, R omney was asked about equal pay for women. He answered that when he became the governor of Massachusetts he got "binders full of women" when he made a "concerted effort" to find qualified women for his cabinet. The comment quickly became an Internet joke, and also has put the GOP ticket in a corner, trying to persuade women a Romney administration would serve their interests best. The Republicans have been hammered by both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the campaign trail about the comment. Ryan even mentioned his ticket's support for women yesterday when he stumped with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In Ocala, Ryan blasted the president on both the stimulus and funds that have gone to green energy. Then he said, "Over five million women have just left the work force. Fewer women are working today than when (Obama) took office. And so of the people who have been hit the hardest, it's women."
Ryan then talked about job skills and training and how that can help women seeking employment.
"Now, what we need is a growing economy that gives people more flexibility in their schedules, what we need is the ability to get people - we have point two of our five-point plan is our jobs training benefits," Ryan said, adding that states should customize their own job training programs "to meet the unique needs of women."
"What so many women need is the ability to have flexibility," Ryan said. "Especially if you're women with children, you want to have flexibility to have the kind of a job that gives you the ability to meet all of your needs and your family. That's what job training skills are all about, that's what growth is all about."
Ryan said, "Most women get their jobs from successful small businesses," and promised a Romney-Ryan administration would help grow those businesses, which he said are more flexible about many women's schedules.
"We've got to champion small businesses which are the kinds of companies that have flexible job schedules that women can get easily back in to the work force. Most people don't get their jobs from the really big corporations, they get their jobs from successful small businesses," Ryan said. "And of all the things we can do to get women back into the workforce, get them the skills they need, get an economy, and help those small businesses bring them back into the work force so they can provide for themselves and their families."
Ryan never mentioned pay equity; the questioner in Ocala did not either. However, after the debate, the Romney campaign also wavered on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act with Romney adviser Ed Gillespie first telling reporters after the debate Romney "was opposed to" the proposed legislation "at the time," but would not repeal it once in office. The next day Gillespie said he was wrong, and Romney "never weighed in on it," and if Romney became president he would not repeal it. In Congress, Ryan voted against the Ledbetter Act.
Today, Ryan said his job in the House of Representatives has "always been to listen to our employers."
"Mitt Romney and I are applying for a job," Ryan said. "You are our employers. We the people run the government not the other way around. The government works for the people. The government doesn't run the people."
Polls in Florida have Obama and Romney in a dead heat in this crucial state. It's why Ryan is spending two days here, much of it on the critical I-4 corridor across the middle of the state. Thursday, Ryan holds a fundraiser and campaign event in the Ft. Myers area; he also reached out to Iowa voters, holding a tele-town hall with them in the afternoon. He will continue to campaign in Florida Friday, including a joint event with his running mate in Daytona Beach.