Oct. 17, 2012 -- Mitt Romney's troubles with his "binder full of women" comment isn't over as Massachusetts women are challenging his version of how he got that binder and his record of hiring top women managers.
In answer to a question from a voter about pay discrepancies between men and women during Tuesday night's debate, Romney recalled how when he became governor of Massachusetts he sought out top level women.
"I went to my staff, and I said, 'How come all the people for these jobs are all men?" Romney said. "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," Romney added.
He said his administration had the highest number of women in top positions of any governor in the country.
That version is under fire by a coalition of women's groups known as MassGAP, which is affiliated with the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus. The group compiled the names of female applicants before Romney came to office and offered them to both Romney and his Democratic opponent Shannon O'Brien.
"It didn't really have anything to do with Romney asking women to give him names," said Carolyn Jones, who was secretary of the Massachusetts Womens' Political Caucus during the time that Romney was governor.
MassGAP, which is non--partisan, issued a statement saying that while the Romney administration started with women comprising 42 percent of newly appointed positions, by 2006, that number had dropped to 25 percent.
"So when the spotlight was on him, sure he paid some lip service. But when no one was looking, those levels plummeted to 25 percent, below where they were in the previous governor's administration," said Jesse Mermell, a Democratic selectwoman in Brookline, Mass., who was the executive director of the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus from 2004 to 2008. During that time the organization commissioned a report on women in government positions in the state.
In response to the controversy, Romney tweeted from his official Twitter account today: "I understand the challenges women face and want to make it easier for them in the workplace." The message included a video of testimonials from women who served in Romney's cabinet as governor.
And a Romney campaign spokesman responded by emphasizing his cooperation with MassGAP in finding qualified women candidates.
"The incoming Romney administration worked with MassGAP to find the best qualified women for top positions in Massachusetts government," said Romney campaign spokesman Andrea Saul. "The efforts resulted in Massachusetts having the most women in top positions in the entire country."
The question about equal pay that prompted the "binders" answer was among several questions at the Hofstra University debate that were of particular interest to women, and the answers could be significant in this election as women voters have become a key demographic.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll in September found that among women registered voters, Obama's favorability plummeted from 57 percent in April to 46 percent.
And on Monday, a USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted after the first presidential debate, showed Romney within one point of Obama among likely women voters in swing states.
Faced with the same question about equal pay, Obama highlighted his administration's passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and hit Romney for hesitating to state his position on the bill.
"I just want to point out that when Governor Romney's campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it, he said, 'I'll get back to you.'" Obama said.
A Romney campaign adviser, Ed Gillespie, has since acknowledged that Romney originally opposed the Ledbetter legislation, and his position is now that he would not change the existing law.
Obama also reminded women during the debate that Romney has vowed to cut federal funds to Planned Parenthood.
During a campaign stop in Virginia today Romney echoed a theme from the debate when he focused on where he says the Obama administration has hurt women the most: the economy.
"This president has failed America's women. They've suffered in terms of getting jobs, they've suffered in terms of falling into poverty," Romney said at an event in Chesapeake, VA on Wednesday. "That's what the women of America care about and the answers are coming from us, not from Barack Obama."