The presidential campaigns in the “swing state” of Ohio usually focus on the 20 per cent of likely voters who are “undecided.” This year, that important swing vote has been predominantly female.
Women, of course, have been front and centre throughout this election campaign – among the biggest memes, those “binders of women” – and they remain so in the final 72 hours. Ads on TV are hitting hard on women’s issues, with Obama commercials denouncing Mitt Romney for his anti-abortion position and his desire to stop support for Planned Parenthood and Romney commercials defending their candidate’s “moderate” approach to abortion (agreeing with it in certain circumstances) and blasting President Barack Obama’s health-care program for taking away religious organizations’ right to have health-insurance plans that do not cover contraceptives. Women, particularly in the Romney campaign, are also overwhelmingly the spokespeople for the candidates in these TV ads.
They are centre stage off-screen too: On Thursday, Ann Romney, the Republican candidate’s wife, held a large Women For Mitt rally outside Columbus – a tearful gathering, high on religious values, in which hundreds of women pledged their support. On Friday, also outside Columbus, Mr. Obama hammered home the view that no politician in Washington should be making decisions about women’s health issues.
For all the campaigning, when I was in Ohio a few weeks ago, women were still grappling with both “women’s issues” and issues such as unemployment, education and the economy. This week, I caught up with female voters to find out where their sympathies have landed since then.
HAYLEY EANES, 19
The voter: Mother of a two-month-old girl. Lives with the father, 20. Both work at a major grocery store chain – she’s at the delicatessen counter, he’s a cashier.
The vote: This is the first election in which Ms. Eanes can vote. She recently decided to back Mr. Obama.
The decision: “It was Romney who helped me make up my mind to vote. If he does away with Planned Parenthood, the way he says he will, I won’t be able to afford contraceptives or screenings for cancer. Once I heard that, my mind was made up. I can’t afford to feed my daughter, let alone pay for those things. I’m already on food stamps.”
PAT ALCORN, 62
The voter: Divorced mother of one grown son. Recruiter for Ohio Restaurant Association.
The vote: Ms. Alcorn has voted for both Democrats and Republicans in the past several elections. She voted for Mr. Obama in 2008, but recently decided to support Mr. Romney.
The decision: “The guy must be crazy to want the job, but I realized he’s not in it for the money. He doesn’t need the money. He’s got a good record and may be able to make things better. Obama’s a good guy too, but I think he became President for his future benefit. He promised too much. Unemployment is too big a nut for him to crack. Frankly, I wish Hillary [Clinton] had won the nomination four years ago. I would have voted for her. I couldn’t care less what [Romney’s] policy on abortion is. No one’s going to do away with it.”
R.L. DUNCANSON, 28
The voter: Single. Studied international relations at Ohio State University. Now a regional marketing manager for a beverage company.
The vote: This is the third presidential election in which Ms. Duncanson has been eligible to vote. Last time, she voted for Mr. Obama. This time, she decided not to vote at all.
The decision: “I can’t vote for either of them. Obama just doesn’t seem qualified to be President, but Romney sometimes disgusts me, especially his attitude to women. I feel bad because my parents and grandparents were very upset when I told them I wouldn’t be voting. But I decided to cast a ballot by not voting.”
GERI BAEPPLOER, 57
The voter: Married, with three grown children. A homemaker in an affluent village northeast of Columbus who also has worked cleaning and painting houses. An observant Baptist.
The vote: Ms. Baepploer usually votes Republican, but waited until very recently to commit herself to Mr. Romney because she was uncertain about his Mormon background.
The decision: “I was a little unsure about Romney, but his pro-life position sealed it for me. I’d vote for someone from any party as long as he was pro-life. After Obama brought in that HHS mandate [a provision in which all employer health plans, including those of religious groups, are required to pay for contraceptives], I finally realized he was trying to tell people to go against their own religion. That’s not right.”
MARGI RUNDIO, 58
The voter: Married, with five grown children. Lives in a suburb of Columbus and works as a recreation director for retired people. A Roman Catholic.
The vote: Ms. Rundio recently decided to vote for Mr. Obama. “Don’t tell my daughter,” she said. “It was hard to decide.”
The decision: “As a Roman Catholic, I was a little concerned about Obama’s support for abortion. But, in the end, I was more concerned that Romney would force Planned Parenthood to close and would impose his views on women. That didn’t sit right with me. I’ve got five children, but none of them can afford to have so many kids. We have to support people making the decision to limit or end pregnancies. Also, I recently took a group of retirees to Utah for a vacation and I saw the Mormons up close: I’ve got nothing against their religion, but it seems pretty clear that a Mormon president [such as Mr. Romney] can’t avoid bringing his religion into the office.”
Interviews have been edited and condensed.