ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. - With 22 days until the election and two new polls showing the presidential race tightening in Pennsylvania, Ann Romney reached out to women voters Monday in central Pennsylvania, urging them to persuade their undecided friends to support her husband.
"My message is this for women: Do you want a brighter economic future? If you do, vote for Mitt," she said to cheers from an enthusiastic crowd of about 900 people, most of them women, who braved the rain and crammed into Leffler Chapel at Elizabethtown College.
In a speech that touched briefly on faith, mixing policy points with stories about her husband's charitable character and their close family ties, Ann Romney told the audience that women have suffered most in the recession.
"The voices of women are saying to me, 'Please help me,' " she said. "Women have been hit harder than men. There are more women unemployed and more slipping into poverty."
In an interview with WGAL-TV ahead of the rally, Ann Romney said she believes Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes are within reach for her husband, the Republican presidential nominee. "That's why I'm here and there's a strong message out there - some states that didn't look like they were in play before and are in play again now," she said.
Her message resonated with Mary Morgan, a retired adult-education teacher from Lancaster. "I've supported Democrats and Republicans," said Morgan, who came with her Republican friend Irene Sheaffer.
Pat Arbegast of Carlisle said she was wowed by Ann Romney's GOP convention speech in Tampa, Fla., and wanted to see her in person. So Arbegast came to an event that aides said was Ann Romney's first solo rally in the state.
"She has such poise and grace, she represents a first lady," said Arbegast, a retired state insurance department employee.
Arbegast said she was convinced that Romney, who spent most of his career as a business leader, is the best choice for the White House. "He's such a good businessman and the country is a big business," she said. "We could use that energy to bring us back."
Ann Romney recounted the story of her Welsh immigrant grandfather, who came to America in 1929 with "nothing but hopes and dreams."
"Look at where his granddaughter is, standing here, possibly the next first lady of the United States," she said, as the crowd waved signs that read "Women for Mitt."
Romney may be a few points closer to pulling even in Pennsylvania, according to a pair of independent public-opinion surveys released Monday.
President Obama leads by 49 percent to 45 percent among likely voters, according to a Muhlenberg College/Allentown Morning Call poll; he had led by 51 to 40 in Muhlenberg's mid-September survey, and by 49 to 42 in late September.
Meanwhile, the latest survey of the state from Public Policy Polling gauges Obama's lead as having shrunk by five percentage points over the last month. But that poll still has the president with a 51-percent-to-44-percent advantage. In the firm's September poll, Obama led by 52 percent to 40 percent.
The latest Inquirer Pennsylvania poll, which surveyed 600 likely voters from Oct. 4 to 8, had Obama up by eight percentage points, 50-42, with a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Valerie Caras, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, said the polls reflect a postdebate bump Romney received. "It reaffirms what we've always believed: that Pennsylvania is certainly competitive," said Caras, adding that 700 new volunteers had signed up across the state since the first debate two weeks ago.
The presidential candidates go head-to-head again Tuesday night at Hofstra University on Long Island. Ann Romney, who reminded the crowd of her husband's strong performance on Oct. 3, said he is ready for Round Two.
"Mitt is prepared, Mitt is confident," she said. "He has a good presence about him."
Mindy Phillips, 30, who told of having supported Obama in 2008, said she has become disillusioned by higher health care premiums and the nation's rising debt. Phillips drove from Baltimore with her two children to see Ann Romney.
Looking at Katelynn, 8, and Ethan, 5, as they grabbed drinks of water before the event, Phillips said: "I've told my children what debt means and that if we don't cut spending, you'll have to pay for it."