By Carol Cain CBS 62 Detroit
With this grueling presidential contest heading into the final days, President Barack Obama and former Mass. Gov Mitt Romney are getting in touch with their softer side as polls show women voters could be the ones to determine the outcome.
Following Obama's performance during the first televised TV debate two weeks ago, Romney began closing the gap and even pulling ahead in some key battleground states with women voters – a constituency that propelled Obama to the White House in 2008.
That is why both candidates took time to answer a question in the CBS Local Presidential Forum about why women should cast their vote for them. CBS Local is asking 10 questions over 10 days of the two men about vital issues in this exclusive forum to help voters learn more about their policies.
"There is a common misconception that female voters care about different issues, or that they want candidates to treat them as an interest group looking for political favors," Romney answered. "In my experience traveling around the country and talking with thousands of voters, I have found that women care about the exact same issues as men: good jobs and a growing economy, getting our debt under control, strengthening our health care and education systems, protecting our interests and standing by our allies around the world.
Romney added that "while the President seeks to divide Americans, scare them with untrue accusations, and offer special programs to win their votes…America is at its best when we are united and working toward common goals, and that is the approach I will bring to Washington."
Obama said the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps women fight back when they don't receive equal pay for equal work.
He added the health care reform law, which requires insurance companies to cover recommended preventive care like cancer screenings, flu shots and contraception without out of pocket costs.
And Obama said he supported women's right to make her own health care decisions.
A Gallup/USA Today poll of 12 swing states this week showed Romney leading by 12 points among men. But it was his surge among women voters that had given him a four-point overall lead as they headed into to Tuesday night's second of three televised debates.
Women, especially working moms whose families have been hard-hit by the nation's economic woes, are the voting block that could determine this race. But what and how to appeal to women voters remains divisive.
"Normally women place more emphasis on job security, health care, education, economic security, fairness toward women and issues about children and families," said former Michigan Gov . James Blanchard, who is supporting Obama.
"Men usually give more focus to national security ,taxes and business issues. Women do care more about choice and men about guns," Blanchard added.
Others said the candidate who talks directly to women voters about all the issues will prevail.
"I see a real change with women voters," said Ronna Romney, a business executive and former U.S. Senate candidate who is former sister in law of Mitt Romney. Ronna Romney has been a GOP fundraiser for years.
Fueling new found enthusiasm for this election: fallout from the economy and Obama's performance.
"We have raised over $20 million in the 'Women For Mitt' effort," she said. "Unlike before when women would ask their husbands for the money or who they should support, they are making their own decisions"
"Women are the first ones impacted hen the economy goes bad and they lose their jobs first," she added.
"Beware the unleashed tiger," said Ronna Romney. "You've got a whole lot of 'Tiger Moms' and 'Career Tigers' who say 'we need to get this country working again.'"
With the polls showing a shift with women, both candidates talked about issues that might appeal to women voters in Tuesday's televised debate.
Obama was more aggressive than their first debate when he turned in a performance that helped fuel a rise by Romney in national polls. During Tuesday's televised contest, the subject of the recent death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in a terrorist attack at an American post in Benghazi also got some red hot attention.
No doubt that issue of foreign policy and national defense will be front and center during the last televised presidential debate this Monday night moderated by CBS's "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer.
"I believe in a military that is so strong, no one would test it," said Romney. "The U.S. Navy has a great slogan, "a global force for good." That's how I see a strong America backed by a strong military. We use our power to stabilize a globalized world, foster freedom and development, and – most importantly – keep the peace. "
When Obama took office, he pointed out the United States was engaged in two wars and faced terrorist threats. Obama said he kept his promise to end the war in Iraq and has a plan to end the war in Afghanistan in 2014.
The U.S. is now building international coalitions, working with allies to to address the shared threats and restoring the country's international leadership.
Coming up: President Barack Obama and Gov, Mitt Romney answer: What criteria would you use to appoint Supreme Court justices?
(Carol Cain is an Emmy winning journalist who has covered politics and business over 20 years. She is Senior Producer/Host of CBS62's "Michigan Matters" and writes a column on politics and business for Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at email@example.com).
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