WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are courting women voters so hard, I expect them to show up for their third and final debate Monday in Boca Raton in pink shirts and ties.
Two sleeper issues in the presidential campaign -- pay equity and glass ceilings women face in employment -- roared to life Tuesday night at the Hofstra town hall debate in an exchange instantly branded with one word: "binders."
Romney, wanting to avoid answering a direct question about pay equity for women -- instead decided to salute his record as Massachusetts governor for hiring women to be part of his cabinet.
In taking the evasive action, Romney only drew massive attention to how he and his campaign have been sidestepping for months questions over whether Romney supports the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill that Obama signed into law.
Now I can understand that Romney did not want to applaud one of Obama's signature achievements. Obama's been bragging on Ledbetter for years. But how hard would it have been for Romney to throw something out there about being for women getting paid the same as men for doing the same work.
This comes as two recent polls -- by Pew Research and Gallup -- found Romney making gains in female support with his messages about Obama's disappointing economic performance and the growing debt and deficit.
Obama's campaign has been counting on outsized backing from women, energized by his health-care law providing contraceptives at no cost, other preventive health benefits, support of abortion rights and appointment of two females to the Supreme Court.
The female vote is vital to deciding who wins the White House.
At the Tuesday debate, an undecided voter by the name of Katherine Fenton asked Romney what "new ways" could he suggest to "rectify the inequalities of the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?"
Romney's answer instantly injected a new phrase to our political lexicon.
Instead of commenting on pay equity for women, Romney said he recruited female executives when he became Massaschusetts governor from "whole binders full of women" put together by a women's group.
Google reported the phrase quickly shot to its third highest search term during the debate, social
media went crazy and parody writers found fresh material.
Romney spoke in a clumsy way about a diversity search for his cabinet that was otherwise laudable.
There was a dustup Wednesday because he made it seem at the debate as that he asked for the female resumes to be assembled -- when a Massachusetts women's group was already getting together a list of potential female recruits no matter who won that gubernatorial race. That's a side distraction.
Romney had a good record for hiring females for his cabinet. When he ran for president in 2008 his campaign was managed by a woman who remains a key figure in his 2012 inner circle -- Beth Meyers.
But the more meaningful matter is that Romney ignored at the debate his hiring record while helming Bain Capitol--which had no female partners when he ran it. And he was also silent on promoting the hiring of women while running the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Obama and his team seized on "binders" while stumping in battlegrounds Iowa and Ohio. At Mount Vernon, Iowa, Obama, talking about teachers said, "I've got to tell you, we don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented -- driven young women.
. . . And when young women graduate, they should get equal pay for equal work."
Biden, stumping in battleground Colorado, mocked Romney.
"When Governor Romney was asked a direct -- a direct question about equal pay, he started talking about binders. Folks, the idea he needed to go and ask where a qualified woman was -- he just should have come to my house."
". . . But I mean . . . equal pay -- he didn't even answer the question."
Campaigning in battleground Virginia, Romney said, "And as I go across the country and ask women, what can I do to help, what they speak about, day in and day out, is help me find a good job or a good job for my spouse, and help my kid -- make sure my children have a bright future, better schools and better job opportunities."
And we don't know what he really thinks about pay equity for women.