DENVER (AP) - Seeking to rally a crucial constituency, President Barack Obama on Wednesday warned women in swing-state Colorado that Republicans would seek to strip away health care benefits for them and cut funding for contraceptive services.
In a passionate pitch for his health care overhaul, Obama sought to draw a stark contrast with presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, saying his rival intended to take his health care law and "kill it dead" on the first day of his presidency and "get rid" of Planned Parenthood.
"They want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century," Obama said, arguing that the decisions affecting a woman's health are "not up to politicians, they're not up to insurance companies, they're up to you."
The rally - it was the first of four events Obama planned for a two-day trip through the state - was geared specifically to women, who were heavily represented in the 4,000-person crowd.
Both Obama and Romney see women as a critical part of their efforts to win Colorado, where the presidential race is tight three months from Election Day.
The Romney campaign dismissed Obama's pitch to women as a distraction from the sluggish economy.
"No false, recycled attacks can distract from the fact that President Obama's four years in office haven't been kind to women," said Amanda Henneberg, a Romney campaign spokeswoman.
A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Obama and Romney tied among voters in Colorado households earning between $30,000 and $50,000 per year - an important target. Obama leads among voters with lower incomes while Romney is favored by those making more.
Obama said women's issues resonated with him because of his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and his late mother. The president said he wanted to ensure that Mrs. Obama "has control over her health care choices" and noted that his mother would have been 70 this year had she not died from cancer nearly two decades ago.
"I often think about what might have happened if a doctor had caught her cancer sooner," Obama said.
The president highlighted his decision to nominate Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court and said the next president "could tip the balance in a way that turns back the clock for women in the next decade to come."
The president was introduced by Sandra Fluke, whose congressional testimony became a flashpoint for arguments over contraception, abortion and women's health earlier in the year. Fluke gained notoriety after conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called her a slut because she supports the Obama health care law's requirement that insurance companies cover contraception.
Fluke said that when she was "verbally attacked" Obama "was one of us."
"He defended my right to speak without being attacked, and he condemned those hateful words," Fluke said. Recalling the incident, she mocked Romney for saying at the time that Limbaugh's words "aren't the words I would have chosen."
"If Mr. Romney can't stand up to extreme voices in his own party, then he will never stand up for us," she said.
From Denver, Obama headed to Grand Junction, Colo., an area that leans Republican. In front of a raucous crowd in a high school gymnasium, Obama pressed forward with his effort to paint Romney as protector of the rich because of his support for extending Bush-era tax cuts for all income earners.
Obama said Romney is struggling to explain to voters how the tax cuts could continue without adding to the deficit and having middle-class Americans pay more.
"There's a whole different type of gymnastics being performed by Mr. Romney than what is happening at the Olympics," he said.
Obama wants to extend the tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year. Under his plan, families who make more would still be taxed on a lower rate for their first $250,000 in income and at a higher rate for any additional income.
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.