Mitt Romney swung through Hartford on Wednesday with a message for women: it’s the Obama Administration, not Republicans, who are waging war on you.

The Romney campaign is strongly pushing the idea that women lost a staggering 92 percent of the jobs lost during the Obama years, implying that the president’s policies have disproportionately hurt women in this economy. This, as anyone who is even marginally familiar with statistics instantly suspects, is a serious distortion of the facts; that the Romney campaign chose this line of attack signals that Romney, and Republicans in general, have belatedly woken up to the idea that they have a serious problem with women.

Romney’s Hartford event was geared to appeal to women; he surrounded himself with women business owners and heavily pushed his “92 percent” meme. “The real war on women,” he said, “is being waged by the president’s failed economic policies.”

It’s a disingenuous dig at best, and an outright distortion of the facts at worst. Romney and the Republicans are only looking at the numbers since the moment the president took office, instead of at the recession as a whole. Women often lag men in job losses during recessions, and that was the case this time as well. In fact, job losses for men far outpace job losses for women over the whole period, and many of the jobs lost by women after Obama’s inauguration were in government work: teachers, social workers, state and municipal employees. Which party has been pushing for huge cuts in those jobs?

Republicans continued to press Democrats Wednesday and Thursday after a Democratic operative and CNN contributor (who Republicans are now scrambling to paint as President Obama’s best friend and confidante) rather inartfully said that Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, might not be the best source of information on women in the economy because she “has actually never worked a day in her life.” Republicans immediately decided to spin this as a slap against stay-at-home mothers, Twitter exploded with phony outrage and rebuttals, and sure enough we’re doing the mommy wars again. If Hilary Rosen hadn’t been the lightning rod, someone else eventually would have; Republicans are eager to have this fight.

So this is the GOP strategy for 2012; try to appeal to women on economic issues, either through highlighting women who own businesses or bashing Democratic economic policy while simultaneously dredging up old cultural fights. On the home front, Linda McMahon has long been holding events highlighting successful women as a way of trying to bridge the yawning gender chasm into which her campaign fell in 2010. She’s been hesitant to dive into the culture wars, but she might not be able to avoid it forever. Her somewhat tortured answer to a question about the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to opt out of contraception coverage, suggests that she’s walking a tightrope there. Then again, if something seems like it might work even a little bit, expect Republicans to run with it.

The truth is that Republicans have steadily been doing their best to alienate women for the past few years. Where to even begin? There’s the ceaseless attacks on Planned Parenthood, which Mitt Romney said he’d “get rid” of, the repeal of an equal pay law in Wisconsin, the Romney campaign’s hesitation on the Lily Ledbetter Act, many new abortion restrictions including bills requiring women seeking abortions to submit to incredibly invasive transvaginal ultrasounds, the contraception debacle and, last but not least, influential GOP pundit Rush Limbaugh attacking a Georgetown Law student by calling her a slut for wanting birth control.

This is all just the latest, there is much, much more. An offhand remark by a marginal Democratic strategist and a few highly distorted statistics don’t balance that out. And who is really making war on women here? Is it Rosen and the Democrats or the cynical opportunists who re-opened a bitter divide among women for their own gain?

If Republicans were serious about making up ground with women, they’d rein in some of the harsher voices on the right and start seriously looking at health care, education, and women workers instead of just women business owners. They’re not going to do that, though; all that the Republicans want here is to use these attacks to peel away just enough independent and conservative women from the Democrats in order to be competitive. This campaign is going to be a long, brutal slog through the cultural minefield, but what else is new?

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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