From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Obama launched the third week of a tour focused on the economy, an issue at the top of voters' minds this election year, with a roundtable discussion with a group of women workers at a female-owned café here Monday.
VIDEO: Sens. Barbara Boxer, Clare McCaskill and Beddie Sabato acknowledge the difficulties both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced in their campaigns, and go through their list of the most important issues for women that need to be addressed by the next administration.
In his brief opening remarks, he talked about his support for legislation to ensure equal pay for women, expanding family and medical leave as well as the tax credit for children and dependents and his plans to offer more after-school and early education programs. He began by talking about his appreciation for working women, noting that he was raised by a single mother, and about his grandmother who rose to become a bank vice president. He also talked about his wife.
"I am here because of my wife Michelle, who is the rock of the Obama family and who worked her way up from modest roots on the South Side of Chicago, and who's juggled jobs and parenting with more skill and grace than anybody that I know and looks good doing it too," he said to laughter. "Michelle and I want our two daughters, Malia and Sasha, to grow up in an America where they have the freedom and opportunity to live their dreams and raise their own families."
Obama said women in America had come a long way but still faced obstacles, including a lack of equal pay, due in part to an federal policies that have not valued families. He argued John McCain's record on women's issues was lacking, saying he was a better choice.
The senator talked about having co-sponsored a bill -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act -- that would have reversed a Supreme Court decision last year that made it harder for women to challenge pay discrimination. He criticized McCain for not supporting the bill and suggesting that the reason women were paid less was because they need more education and training, not because of discrimination.
"John McCain has it wrong. He said the Fair Pay Restoration Act 'opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems.' But I can't think of any problem more important than making sure that women are getting a square deal on the job. It's a matter of equality. It's a matter of fairness," Obama said. "That's why I stood up for equal pay in the Illinois State Senate, when I was in the state legislature, and helped pass a law to give 330,000 more women protection from paycheck discrimination. That's why I've been fighting to pass legislation in the Senate, so that employers don't get away with discriminating against hardworking women like Lilly Ledbetter. And that's why I'll continue to stand up for equal pay as president. Sen. McCain won't, and that's a real difference in this election."
Obama said he would expand a tax credit that would help working families get up a 50 percent credit for child-care expenses, double funding for afterschool programs and invest in early childhood education. He criticized the Arizona senator for proposing tax cuts he said favor mainly the very wealthy and said he did not have a plan to expand paid family and medical leave.
The presumptive Democratic nominee was introduced by New Mexico's Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, a former Clinton supporter who said she was now supporting him.
"I was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Sen. Clinton, who I felt like was an incredible candidate. But I also made it clear every step of the way during this primary process that I would be supporting the best Democratic candidate to replace the Republican administration that we have frankly suffered under for the last eight years," Denish said. "Today Barack Obama is that man. We know one thing, John McCain is not that man."
The focus on issues of concern to women is important for the Obama campaign as it aims to make sure those women who supported his former rival Hillary Clinton come to his camp and not McCain's. Denish is the latest in a string of Clinton supporters -- and the second major female supporter, the first was Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm – to speak on behalf of Obama at an event in the last week. Today's discussion begins a week that will end with Obama and Clinton campaigning together in New Hampshire in the city of Unity, a town they split evenly in the Jan. 8 primary.
Also in attendance was the First Lady of New Mexico Barbara Richardson and Obama closed his opening remarks by hailing her, Denish and Clinton.
"I know that we've drawn closer to this America because of extraordinary women, women like the lieutenant governor and your first lady, the extraordinary woman who I shared a stage with so many times throughout this campaign -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton," he said. "And in the months and years ahead, I look forward to working with her and to women all across the country to make progress on the issues that matter to American women and to all American families -- health care and education; support for working parents and an insistence on equality.
Obama spent about 40 minutes answering questions from the group of about 25 women on paying for education, healthcare, taxes, encouraging small business development and how to help women who are victims of domestic violence.
*** UPDATE *** The McCain campaign responds this way: "When talking about his campaign against Senator Clinton, Barack Obama said that women voters are going to 'get over it' when they get to know John McCain's record. When you consider women are a major driving force behind small business start-ups in this country, Barack Obama's proposals to raise taxes on millions of small businesses isn't going to help women voters 'get over it'. Additionally, Barack Obama's plan to put government in between women and their personal physicians isn't going to help them 'get over it' either."