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Women's rights leader Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, addresses the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2012.
Jessica Rinaldi—Reuters

Male voters might be forgiven for feeling a little ignored this election cycle.

Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday launched an election-year push for a middle class agenda aimed at drumming up support from single women voters, a demographic they believe could help them keep the Senate come November.

To mark “Equal Pay Day,” President Barack Obama plans to sign two executive orders on Tuesday. One would bar federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share salary information with one another. The other would extend the statute of limitations for equal pay claims. Lilly Ledbetter, who will be at Obama’s side on Tuesday and for whom the 2009 equal pay act is named, inspired both moves. Ledbetter worked for 20 years at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. before she found out from an anonymous tip from a fellow employee that she was earning less money than her male colleagues. By then, the statute of limitations had run out for her to reclaim most of her lost wages.

Obama will also direct the Labor Department to begin to collect and publish private sector income data by sex that “will hopefully facilitate voluntary compliance,” Betsey Stevenson, a member of the White House Council on Economic Advisors, told reporters on a conference call Monday.

At the same time, the Senate will attempt to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would enact similar standards for the private sector. The push will likely go nowhere amid Republican opposition, which is why Obama is acting unilaterally where he can. “All Republicans support equal pay for equal work,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “The ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ doesn’t provide paycheck fairness for women, instead it cuts flexibility in the work place fro working moms and ends merit pay that rewards good work—the very things that are important to us.”

Democratic groups also launched a flurry of equal-pay related studies on Monday. One study by the National Partnership for Women & Families found that if women were paid equally, instead of 77 cents on the dollar, the increase in annual wages would average $11,607 per woman. The study also found that African-American women are paid just 64 cents to the dollar and Hispanic women are paid 54 cents on the dollar. Another study, this one by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, found that in 101 of the 112 occupations tracks by the Labor Department, women make less than men, and in 17 of those they make at least 25 cents to the dollar less.

On the Republican side, a study by the American Enterprise Institute found that women working in the White House make 88 cents for every dollar that men do. “What I can tell you is that we have as an institution here have aggressively addressed this challenge,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at Monday’s briefing when asked about the report, “and obviously, though, at the 88 cents that you cite, that is not a hundred, but it is better than the national average.”

The ramped up effort marks the beginning of weeks—if not months—of Democratic events focused on women’s issues. Coming up are votes to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, a move that Democrats say would disproportionately help women since two-thirds of those earning minimum wage are women. Then will come a vote on a measure to make child care more affordable. “This is essentially the start of Democrats’ effort to motivate their base. This effort seems designed to appeal to voters who tend to stay home in mid-term elections, including single women,” said Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “And, obviously any day that Democratic incumbents and challengers aren’t defending health care reform is a good day.”

The push is a gamble. Traditionally, midterm voters are older and relatively more male. But Democrats believe the key to electoral victory in 2014 lies in turning out more single women to vote. In 2008, Barack Obama won the White House with the support of 58% of single women, according to CNN exit polls. But in the 2010 elections, Democrats narrowly lost women to the GOP, 49% to 48%; CNN did not break out single versus married women that cycle. In 2012, Obama won single women, 67% to Mitt Romney’s 31%.

Still the strategy remains unproven. Democrats used similar messaging in a special election for a Florida congressional seat last month, where they also ran a top tier female candidate, but lost the swing district.

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