Going after the women's vote, Democrat Barack Obama chastised Republican John McCain on Thursday over his opposition to an equal-pay Senate bill, his support for conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices and his abortion-rights objections.
"I will never back down in defending a woman's right to choose," the likely Democratic nominee said, drawing a sharp contrast with his GOP rival.
"That's what's at stake," Obama added as he campaigned with his half-sister and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the pioneering former first lady he toppled during the Democratic presidential primary, at a "Women for Obama" breakfast fundraiser.
Obama packed his day with female-focused events in New York and Virginia, a reminder of his need to win over women who include some still smarting from Clinton's loss. She had tried to become the first woman to win the White House, and women were her base voters. They took her defeat hard, so much so that even a few are promising to vote for McCain.
'Pay women what they've earned'
Thus, to underscore his differences with McCain on women's issues, Obama cited Senate legislation from the spring that sought to counteract a Supreme Court decision limiting how long workers can wait before suing for pay discrimination.
Obama said McCain "thinks the Supreme Court got it right."
"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," Obama said, eliciting groans from the audience. Obama said the problem is some employers aren't paying women enough and many women aren't able to challenge that. "The solution is to finally close that gap and pay women what they've earned, nothing less."
Obama backed the Senate legislation that would have made it easier for women to sue their employers for pay discrimination. McCain opposed it, saying at the time: "I am all in favor of pay equity for women, but this kind of legislation ... opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems."
Seeking an edge, the Democrat also raised the issue of abortion rights, which is shaping up to be a major point of difference between the candidates. Obama supports keeping the landmark decision that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade, intact, while McCain opposes abortion rights and wants to appoint Supreme Court justices akin to Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
"Senator McCain has made it abundantly clear that he wants to appoint justices like Roberts and Alito — and that he hopes to see Roe overturned," Obama said. "I stand by my votes against confirming Justices Roberts and Alito."
The Democrat said voters will decide in the fall election "whether we'll have judges who demonstrate sound judgment and empathy, who understand how law operates in our daily lives, who are committed to upholding the values at the core of our Constitution — or judges who put ideology before justice, with our fundamental rights as the first casualty."
The Republican National Committee argued that although Obama opposed the confirmation of Roberts and Alito, he backed the court's recent decision on gun rights and sided with the minority on the death penalty in child rape cases. Said RNC spokesman Alex Conant: "Considering his recent reversals and partisan record, rather than attack Justices Roberts and Alito, Obama owes the American people more than just political expedience."
Obama started his day at the 2,300-person fundraiser with Clinton — their second joint fundraising appearance in as many days — and with his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng.
"I'm grateful for all of you who have come together," Clinton said as she introduced Obama. "I know you'll be there in November."
She noted that Obama had mentioned that she looked rested after being off the rigorous campaign trail, said she's trying to exercise now and compared her habits with Obama's during the primary season. "Barack would get up faithfully every morning and go to the gym. I would get up and have my hair done," she quipped.
Later, Obama was scheduled to hold a town-hall event in Fairfax, Va., on his economic plan and how it would help women and all parents balance work and family demands. Virginia first lady Anne Holton planned to introduce Obama.