Candidates make pitch to women

The Baltimore Sun

NEW YORK - Democrat Barack Obama criticized his likely Republican presidential opponent yesterday on a range of women's issues as the campaign turned to a key voting group.

At a breakfast fundraiser, Obama attacked John McCain for supporting conservative justices who are likely to overturn abortion rights.

"I've made it equally clear that I will never back down in defending a woman's right to choose," Obama said. He also criticized McCain for opposing an equal-pay Senate bill.

McCain "thinks the Supreme Court got it right last year when they handed down the Ledbetter decision that makes it more difficult for women to challenge pay discrimination at work," Obama said. "He opposed legislation that I co-sponsored to reverse that decision. He suggested that the reason women don't have equal pay isn't discrimination on the job - it's because they need more education and training."

On Wednesday, McCain said he thought women were making significant progress "but I think there's a long, long way to go."

In a conversation with reporters, he cited top women executives and the increasing number of female senators but added: "The bad news is there's clearly not enough. The majority of the population of the United States of America are women, and so we have to do whatever we can to encourage the participation of women in all walks of life and make sure that any barriers to their advancement are eliminated.

"I will continue to pursue those policies that have succeeded and do whatever I can to see that any remaining barriers - and I'm sure there are remaining barriers - are eliminated."

In response to a question about an initiative he would have toward that goal, McCain cited his economic plan calling for helping small businesses as one way to aid women.

"I don't have a specific policy at the moment, except to - again, I think my support of small business and the fact that I will not raise people's taxes," he said. "One of the greatest areas of participation of women in America is small business. And they are larger and larger numbers who are small-business owners. I will focus my attention on doing everything I can to see that they succeed. And that is a very big area of where women are involved in America."

As they have been in previous elections, women are expected to be a key voting group. But this year, the role was highlighted by Hillary Clinton's campaign to become the Democratic nominee. She enjoyed strong support among women voters.

As part of the party unity effort, Obama has offered to help raise money to help wipe out Clinton's campaign debt. Yesterday's fundraiser, which drew more than 2,000 people, followed two fundraisers Wednesday night.

In Washington, meanwhile, McCain reported raising more than $22 million in June, his best fundraising performance of the year. He ended the month with nearly $27 million in cash on hand.

Louise Roug and Michael Muskal write for the Los Angeles Times.

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