By Catherine Lucey
Is the next president going to be a ladies' choice?
During their presidential convention this week, Democrats will make a massive appeal for female voters, with a female-centric speaker schedule and a focus on issues that traditionally appeal to women, like abortion, health care, equal pay and education.
Pennsylvania's lone female congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who represents parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, will play a prominent role in that effort, appearing on stage this week with other congresswomen on behalf of President Obama.
"We're going backwards on women's rights, on access to health services and tax breaks for the middle class," Schwartz said of the positions held by Republican challenger Mitt Romney. "We believe in expanding opportunities for women, and to go backwards is very disconcerting."
Both parties are aggressively wooing women during this presidential campaign. Experts said that in a tight race, a small group of female swing voters - most likely moderate suburbanites - could have a huge impact.
"If there's one overarching demographic both sides are concerned with, it's women," said University of Virginia Center for Politics director Larry Sabato.
In 2008, women voted in higher numbers than men, and Obama won with female voters by 13 percentage points. Sabato said that Obama needs a sizable margin for victory again this year.
"Obama would have no chance at all without women. Women are his chance of a second term," Sabato said.
Last week at the Republican National Convention, the GOP made its play for women, featuring speakers like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who argued that economic opportunities would be better with a Republican in the White House.
"The Romney argument is simple: Women have been disproportionately damaged in this recession," said G. Terry Madonna, head of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. "Romney wants to make this campaign about jobs."
Meanwhile, the Democrats have been accusing the Republicans of being out of touch on issues like abortion, citing the comments by Missouri U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, candidate for Senate, who recently said that women's bodies could block pregnancy in the case of "legitimate rape."
But Schwartz said that the Democrats also have an economic case to make to voters.
"Women care about access to women's health; we also care about economic opportunity and a future for ourselves and our sons and daughters," Schwartz said. "The first law the president passed was the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay act. It was something very meaningful to women and their families."
Ledbetter, who crusaded for equal pay at Goodyear, is on the speaker list at the convention, along with U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who's running for Senate in Wisconsin; actress Eva Longoria; and first lady Michelle Obama, who speaks Tuesday night.
"The array of women that the Democratic Party can highlight and showcase are far more diverse," said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University. "At the end of the day, this is Barack Obama's constituency to lose."