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Obama and Romney woo female voters

President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have vied aggressively for the support of female voters, accusing each other of failing America's women as they fought to keep up the momentum after their contentious, finger-pointing debate.

At issue was the candidates' approach to gender pay equity laws and Mr Romney's comment during the debate that he was sent "binders full of women" when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Mr Romney made the remark while recalling that he looked to women's organisations after being dissatisfied with the mostly male applicants for senior level positions in his administration.

But it set off a storm of media parodies, and Mr Obama jumped on the comment to try to portray Mr Romney as out of step with the concerns of women.

"We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women," Mr Obama said at a rally in Mount Vernon, Iowa. There was little mystery in the candidates' focus on women.

Polls since the first debate two weeks ago, when Mr Obama fared poorly, show gains for Mr Romney among women voters. That is a shift the Democratic president can ill afford given the traditional Republican advantage among men.

But Mr Obama's second debate performance was much stronger than the first time around, and he was staying on the attack on the campaign trail.

Not even Republicans disputed that Mr Obama's debate performance was much improved from the listless showing two weeks earlier that helped spark a rise in the polls for Mr Romney. But the first post-debate polls were divided, some saying Mr Romney won, others finding Mr Obama did. The two rivals meet one more time, next Monday in Florida.

Democrats rebutted Mr Romney's memory of the binders he received as the newly elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002. On a conference call arranged by the Democratic National Committee, a former executive director of the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project said the group provided the resumes of women qualified for appointment unprompted. "To be perfectly clear, Mitt Romney did not request" them, said Jesse Mermell.

Mr Romney quickly countered with a combination testimonial and fundraising appeal from Kerry Healey, who was his lieutenant governor in Massachusetts. She said he had named numerous women to his administration, adding: "He sought out our counsel, and he listened to our advice. We didn't always agree, but we were always respected."

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