Mitt Romney’s campaign stumbled in a major way today, waffling whether or not the candidate supports equal pay legislation that makes it easier for women to sue employers for wage discrimination. The balk is a big setback for Romney, who is trying to convince voters that it is Obama, not Republicans, who is waging a war against women. The candidate and his campaign surrogates have spent the past week arguing that Obama’s economic policies have “set women back 20 years,” and have led to huge job losses for female workers.
But on a conference call with reporters this morning, Romney’s aides could not state the candidate’s position on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which Obama signed into law in 2009 amid staunch Republican opposition.
Asked by the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein whether Romney supported the Ledbetter Act, the campaign aides paused for a full six seconds before finally replying: “Sam, we’ll get back to you on that.”
Two hours later, the Romney campaign determined that Romney does support the Ledbetter Act, and would not repeal the legislation if elected.
“Of course Mitt Romney supports pay equity for women,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement. “The real question is whether President Obama supports jobs for women.”
But Democrats had already pounced on the waffle, posting an audio clip of the conference call pause and promoting a new Twitter hashtag #WellGetBackToYouOnThat.
The Obama campaign even sent out a statement from Ms. Ledbetter herself:
“I was shocked and disappointed to hear that Mitt Romney is not willing to stand up for women and their families. If he is truly concerned about women in this economy, he wouldn’t have to take time to ‘think’ about whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This Act not only ensures women have the tools to get equal pay for equal work, but it means their families will be better served also. Women earn just 77 cents to every dollar that men earn for the same job, which is why President Obama took decisive action and made this the first bill that he signed when he took office. Women should have the ability to take their bosses to court to get the same pay as their male coworkers. Anyone who wants to be President of the United States shouldn’t have to think about whether they support pursuing every possible avenue to ensuring women get the same pay for the same work as men. Our economic security depends on it.”
The stumble underscores just how difficult it will be for the Republican frontrunner to pivot back toward the centre after tacking hard to the right during the primary. Equal pay is popular among independent voters and women, groups that Romney is struggling to win over in the general election. But the Ledbetter Act is a signature achievement for Obama, and is largely reviled by most Republican lawmakers (and the conservative base).
As the general election moves forward, Romney is likely to find himself caught between these two voting blocs pretty frequently. The fact that his campaign totally botched this first round could signal a bumpy road ahead for the Republican frontrunner.
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