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Blog: Did Obama, Romney miss key audience?

By Jessica Zigmond
3:30 pm, Oct. 17

Did President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney miss an opportunity in Tuesday night's debate to attract the much-coveted female voting bloc by barely touching on healthcare issues? Or should moderator Candy Crowley take responsibility for that instead?

Ilisa Halpern Paul, managing government relations director at the law firm Drinker, Biddle and Reath watched the 90-minute debate with her colleague Jodie Curtis, who serves as government relations director at the firm. When I spoke with them late Tuesday, they both expressed surprise that the town hall discussion didn't include one direct question on healthcare.

“It was 54 minutes into the debate before there was mention of the word Medicare,” Halpern Paul said.

In her role as moderator, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley was responsible for sifting through questions from 80 undecided voters and then teeing those up to the candidates. While she covered a wide range of issues by choosing questions on jobs, taxes, energy, gas prices, immigration, gun control, outsourcing jobs overseas, and Libya, she did not select one on healthcare. It's possible, Halpern Paul and Curtis said, that Crowley had some healthcare questions left in the queue and simply ran out of time. And, the questions may have been ordered in such a way that the ones about healthcare were placed at the end because the topic was covered thoroughly in both the first presidential match-up on Oct. 3 and the vice presidential debate last week. Whatever the reason, it didn't allow for the candidates to outline their stark differences on the issue—which could have done much to sway the undecided women voters they're seeking.

“Tonight was (about) appealing to undecided voters,” Halpern Paul said in a phone interview after the debate. “Those 'swingable,' independent voters are mostly white, suburban women who are not middle-aged and not young,” she continued, adding that healthcare concerns are generally concerns of women. And those concerns are not limited to contraceptive coverage, even though that issue has made headlines this year. Women, who generally live longer than men, are also concerned about things like access to affordable drugs and the solvency of the Medicare program, as many are caregivers for their aging parents.

“If that is who they were both targeting, it didn't sound that way,” Halpern Paul said. “I would have expected both of them to incorporate healthcare in more of the questions they were asked.”

What do you think? Please let me know: jzigmond@modernhealthcare.com.

You can follow Jessica on Twitter @MHJZigmond.


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