APEX — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley had a simple message Monday for undecided North Carolina women: Jobs and the economy should trump social issues when it comes to deciding the next president.
“Put all the commercials aside, back and forth – whether they are Obama commercials or Romney commercials – that’s politics,” Haley told about 150 people at the Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex. “They are distractions.
“We are smarter than that. Women balance and we balance budgets. We keep our priorities in line. For them to say there is a war on women. I am still looking for it. I haven’t found it yet.”
Haley, campaigning for Republican Mitt Romney, was the latest surrogate in the battle for one of the key demographics of the presidential campaign: suburban women.
It is a group where Romney needs to do better. Suburban women disproportionally make up the sliver of undecided voters in this closely divided state.
That is one reason why in the past week first lady Michelle Obama campaigned in Durham and Greenville, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, stumped in Raleigh and Winston-Salem..
Women have also been the focus of TV ads and mailings.
Of the undecided voters in North Carolina, about 55 percent are women, said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, a Democratic leaning firm in Raleigh. Those undecided women tend to be suburbanites concentrated in the Raleigh and Charlotte markets, he said.
“What we found about them is they just don’t like Obama or Romney,” Jensen said. “To some extent they are making a lesser of two evils calculation.”
There is also a gender gap in the race in North Carolina, with Obama ahead by 13 points among women, and Romney up by 14 points among men – an even larger-than-normal gender partisan gap, Jensen said.
Part of the gender gap among women may be because of social issues.
At a Women for Romney event Monday morning, Haley urged women to focus on the bread and butter issues.
“What I am seeing is women are paying attention to everything,” Haley said. “We look at jobs. We look at the economy. We look at health care. Do we look at contraception? Yes, we look at contraception. But I have friends who are pro life who are in the Democratic Party. And I have friends who are pro choice who are in the Republican Party. That is not what makes us decide who is going to be president.”
Haley, who was introduced by 2nd District Rep. Renee Ellmers, asked each person to find five people who supported Obama in 2008 and get them to support Romney.
In recent days, the Romney campaign released a “Dear Daughter,” TV ad featuring a mother and her baby. “Obama’s policies are making it harder on women,” says the announcer in the ad.
Later this week, the Romney campaign is expected to bring to Charlotte a group of women who worked in the Romney administration when he was governor of Massachusetts to talk about his support for women.
Other pro Romney groups have also targeted women. One North Carolina mailing, paid for by Americans for Tax Reform, features a 40-ish woman.
“President Obama took office in a tough economy,” the mailing said. “Unfortunately, his policies haven’t fixed the economy.”
Democrats have also been aggressively courting women voters. The two largest Women for Obama chapters in the nation are in Greensboro and in Fayetteville. The Obama campaign has had a string of surrogates in the state, from actress Ashley Judd, to deputy campaign managers Stephanie Cutter and Juliana Smoot, meeting with women, talking about such issues as education, health care, preventative care and equal pay.
Speaking to about 150 women at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Raleigh Friday night, Wasserman-Schultz said the clear choice for women was Obama.
“For women here in North Carolina and across the country, we know this election means something even greater,” she said. “For it’s a choice between a candidate who’s on the right side of our issues – and one who’s not.”
During a campaign stop in Durham last week, Michelle Obama said “when it comes to standing up for our rights and our opportunities, we know that my husband will always have our backs.”
She noted that the first bill her husband signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that extended the statute of limitations on when suits can be filed for equal pay.
“And that is also why he will always, always fight to ensure that women can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care,” she said.