Mitt Romney is expected to make a pitch to women voters on the economy (AP)
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is starting to hone his appeal to female voters, acutely aware as he turns to the general election that he has little choice but to narrow President Barack Obama's commanding lead among this critical constituency.
None too soon, say many Republican activists. They expect Mr Romney, as well as his popular wife, Ann, to make an explicit pitch to female voters on the economy and jobs, their top issues.
The eventual nominee "needs to start recognising the power that women voters have", said Rae Lynne Chornenky, president of the National Federation of Republican Women.
Mr Romney, a former Massachusetts governor on pace to clinch the nomination in June, if not earlier, acknowledges that the Republican Party faces a historical challenge in closing the advantage Democrats have with women.
Mr Romney has won far more delegates to the Republican nominating convention than his challengers: former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Representative Ron Paul, and former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Like Mr Obama, Mr Romney sees pocketbook issues as the key to winning them.
"We have work to do to make sure we take our message to the women of America, so they understand how we're going to get good jobs and we're going to have a bright economic future for them and for their kids," Mr Romney said this past week in Middleton, Wisconsin.
By Friday, Mr Obama was making the same argument at the White House, where he hosted a conference on women and the economy. He presented a full review of the administration's achievements on equal pay and workplace flexibility as new unemployment numbers showed an upturn in job creation.
"When we talk about these issues that primarily impact women, we've got to realise they are not just women's issues. They are family issues, they are economic issues, they are growth issues, they are issues about American competitiveness," said Mr Obama, using his office to cast himself as a defender of women.
His Democratic allies are putting it more bluntly, accusing Republicans of waging a "war against women".