DENVER — Pitching for the women's vote, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Republicans intent on undoing his health care law would be eliminating benefits for women and funding for contraceptive services. GOP rival Mitt Romney took a potshot at California when he compared it to financially troubled Greece.
Obama sought to draw a stark contrast with Romney, pointing out that the former Massachusetts governor said he intended to take the health care law and "kill it dead" on his first day in office and "get rid" of Planned Parenthood.
"They want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century," Obama told a largely female crowd of about 4,000 at a campaign event in Denver. He argued that decisions affecting a woman's health are "not up to politicians, they're not up to insurance companies. They're up to you."
Obama is spending two days in Colorado, reaching out to women voters whose support is essential to his re-election prospects in November. He was introduced by Sandra Fluke, the college student whose congressional testimony became a flashpoint earlier this year for arguments over contraception, abortion and women's health care.
Romney was focused on the six electoral votes Iowa offers in a state-level race that both parties think could be close. He told Iowans that Americans must show investors worldwide that they are serious about reining in spending and debt.
"Entrepreneurs and business people around the world and here at home think that at some point America is going to become like Greece or like Spain or Italy, or like California — just kidding about that one, in some ways," Romney said, laughing along with audience members in Iowa.
The remark ruffled egos in a liberal state that is wrestling with the prospect of tax increases and painful budget cuts. But Romney may have little to lose in California. Polls show Obama with a comfortably ahead there.
A spokesman for California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, disputed Romney's assessment. Gil Duran said the state's credit outlook has improved under Brown and that borrowing costs, a major issue facing Italy and other financially struggling European nations, have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars.
"This is just a paper-thin Republican talking point that doesn't really stand up to scrutiny" Duran said. He said Romney "should get some better speechwriters who actually know what they're talking about."
Romney and his Republican allies also denounced Obama as too far left to be re-elected, and did so by holding up an unlikely presidential role model — Democrat Bill Clinton.
Obama is "the anti-Clinton," declared former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, bolstering a line of attack taken up by Romney in speeches and a TV ad as part of a hard sell to working-class voters.
In Iowa, Romney repeated his charge that Obama is stripping work requirements from welfare and instituting changes to "make America more of a nation of government dependency."
Obama's campaign says Romney is misrepresenting a change that simply gives states that requested it more freedom to deal with paperwork. But Gingrich, whose own bid for the GOP nomination was quashed by Romney, argued that the administration's willingness to weigh state requests for waivers amounted to a back-door maneuver to undermine the 1996 law signed by Clinton.
"Clinton was trying to move the party to the center," Gingrich told reporters, referring to the Democratic Party. "Obama is trying to move it to the left."
The former president weighed in with a statement Tuesday night, saying the Romney ad's assertion was "not true."
The effort to cleave Obama from a popular policy of Clinton's presidency comes weeks before the former president is to be a marquee speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Gingrich — who pushed through the 1996 welfare bill and later led the charge to impeach Clinton — said he wanted to remind Americans "how much weaker and less effective a president Obama is than the man who is nominating him."
The welfare issue as pushed by the Romney campaign appeared to be aimed at blue-collar whites in a weak economy and suggested that Obama might be gaining ground politically with his position on taxes.
After the Des Moines appearance, Romney flew to New Jersey to raise money for his campaign. On his way to the airport, the former Massachusetts governor stopped at a corn field to talk with a farmer about the severe drought gripping much of the nation.
In Denver, Obama said women's health issues resonated with him because of his wife, Michelle, and his late mother. The president said he wanted to make sure his wife "has control over her health care choices." He also noted that his mother would have turned 70 this year had she not died from cancer nearly two decades ago.
"I often think about what might have happened if a doctor had caught her cancer sooner," Obama said.
Obama also highlighted his decision to appoint two women to the Supreme Court and said the next president "could tip the balance in a way that turns back the clock" for women in the next decade.
The president was introduced by Fluke, a Georgetown law student who gained notoriety after conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh called her a slut because she supports the Obama health care law's requirement that insurance companies cover contraception.
Fluke said when she was "verbally attacked" Obama "was one of us. He defended my right to speak without being attacked, and he condemned those hateful words." Recalling the incident, Fluke mocked Romney for saying at the time that Limbaugh's words "aren't the words I would have chosen."
"If Mr. Romney can't stand up to extreme voices in his own party, then he will never stand up for us," Fluke said.
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With the trip to Denver, Obama opened a two-day, four-city swing through Colorado, focusing his events on the economy, including his call for Congress to extend tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year while letting the cuts for higher-income earners expire.
A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Obama and Romney tied among voters in Colorado households earning between $30,000 and $50,000 per year — an important target. Obama leads among voters with lower incomes; Romney is favored by those making more.