By MARIA-PIA NEGRO
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski helped kick off a Democratic Convention ladies night on Wednesday, surrounded by her fellow Senate women and highlighting the Obama record on issues important to women.
"When women are in the halls of power, our national debate reflects the needs and dreams of American families," Mikulski said in speech punctuated by appeals to women.
"We've built families, businesses, and communities. We're Sunday school teachers and former governors, prosecutors and moms in tennis shoes," she said, the latter a reference to a campaign slogan for fellow senator and convention speaker Patty Murray of Washington.
Mikulski, dean of Senate women, took the stage after a photo montage of the 12 Democratic women senators.
She was joined on stage by her colleagues: Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Kay Hagan, D-N.C.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Murray, D-Wash.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
As she took the stage, she high-fived her colleagues, who stood behind her throughout her speech. When her speech ended they all joined hands and held them overhead to the tune of Katy Perry's "Firework."
Mikulski has served more than 35 years in Congress, which makes her the longest-serving woman in congressional history. She has been a regular speaker at past Democratic National Conventions, including the 1980 convention, where she introduced Ted Kennedy.
This time, Mikulski highlighted the joint effort of the Senate women and President Barack Obama to "strengthen families and restore security to the middle class." Every issue is a woman's issue, she told a cheering crowd.
"The 77 cents that women make for every dollar men earn makes a real difference to our families—families stretching to make every dollar count."
Mikulski also said that the priorities of the president and women align, citing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—which allows victims of pay discrimination to take their employers to court—and health care reform.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings said Mikulski's speech showed why American women are behind the president's re-election.
"She also laid out the fact that he is a staunch supporter of women's health care as opposed to the Republicans," Cummings said.
Yvette Lewis, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said that Mikulski's remarks showed that women are strong when united.
"If we stay together we do have strength in numbers," Lewis said, adding that she was happy that the whole arena got a glimpse of Mikulski.
"To see her get the crowd so charged up makes us really proud," Lewis said. "We loved her. You know why? Because she typifies everything that the working women loves. She is every woman."
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said Mikulski made him extremely proud to be a Marylander and an American.
"She's fought for all Americans and particularly focused on fighting for women," Brown said.
This Democratic Convention had a heavy lineup of women spread throughout the three days of events. On Tuesday, the women of the House took the stage to highlight the causes they are fighting for.
Other speakers for the week included Denise Juneau, Montana's superintendent of public instruction; Lilly Ledbetter, whose lawsuit became the basis for a new fair-pay law; actress Eva Longoria; Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood; and attorney and Obama activist Sandra Fluke.
The Republican National Convention in Tampa also included a "ladies night" with several governors and congresswoman and prime-time appearances by New Mexico's Gov. Susana Martinez and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Many of the Democratic women said they thought the Republican appeal to women was too little, too late.
"Just because you put a woman on the stage or said the word women repeatedly throughout a convention; words are fine, it is the actions that matter," said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
"I appreciated the attempt to reach out to women but I think women deserve more than what they heard at that (Republican) convention," Fluke told Capital News Service Tuesday.