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juliette kayyem

A night to woo women voters

Who knew it was Ladies’ Night in Boca Raton? Governor Mitt Romney tried to woo the female vote Monday night at the final presidential debate by playing the guy next door. It was too late and too forced.

This was not Romney the tough guy, pounding his fist to protect America as he often did during the primaries. His stinging criticism of the president was that he hasn’t spent enough effort on women’s empowerment in the Middle East. His “red line” policy on Iran was tempered, as he focused on diplomacy and sanctions more than preemptive strikes. Romney even ruled out the possibility of military intervention in Syria, far more peacenik than Obama. In appealing to a less-violent foreign policy, Romney repeated twice that “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.”

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What happened? This debate was, in the end, about one constituency only: the women’s vote. The female vote has been moving steadily toward Romney as his positions have become more user-friendly. Both candidates appealed early and often to women who prefer to live with fewer wars and less belligerency.

But Romney’s late pivot to a kinder/gentler candidate bumped up against his record of statements; his performance seemed more passive than pacifist. Once Romney took hawk-talk off the table, he just couldn’t separate himself from Obama.

Meanwhile, courting the same voters, Obama turned the moment of chest-pounding victory with the death of Osama bin Laden into one about a child who lost his father to the terrorist mastermind, appealing to the heartstrings rather than the killer instinct. Romney seemed to fall silent, reminding us only in a disjointed end that “he loves teachers.”

It didn’t seem to matter that there was no woman moderator. Women were everywhere. But after months of being the bad boy, talking tough and taking prisoners, Romney didn’t have enough time to play the marrying kind.

Juliette Kayyem can be reached at jkayyem@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliettekayyem.
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