KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Mitt Romney's courtship of female voters in his typical campaign speech sounds a bit like a movie's casting call.
Woman Whose Husband Took an Upholstery Class. Woman Who Is Going Back To College. Woman Who Owns Duplexes.
Romney's campaign won't identify these women, making it impossible to check the accuracy of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's accounts. It's unclear whether they even know of their cameos in Romney's campaign.
But they're serving an important role as he looks to narrow the advantage President Barack Obama has with female voters.
The latest Associated Press-GfK poll found women favor Obama by 54 percent to 39 percent — largely in line with the 2008 "gender gap" that helped him win the White House.
With women making up roughly 52 percent of the electorate, Romney needs to gain ground with these voters to have a better shot at winning the White House. Less than six months before the election, polls show it's a competitive race overall.
Women historically tilt toward Democrats. And this spring's national debate over access to contraception hasn't helped GOP candidates.
When asked in the AP-GfK poll, women were 31 percentage points more likely to think Obama is the candidate who more often says what he really believes than Romney, 58 percent to 27 percent. And when asked which candidate would better handle the economy — Romney's central pitch to voters is his business experience — women still give Obama a slight edge, 50 percent to 42 percent.
Romney's advisers are aware of the hurdle, and the campaign is working to overcome it.
Ann Romney has taken on a prominent role in the campaign. She's almost always by her husband's side in an attempt to soften — critics say humanize — the hard-edged former business executive.
And Romney, himself, has started highlighting women's stories of economic success — or hardship — in the speech he delivers once or more a day at campaign appearances.
He often starts by telling audiences about some of the women he meets when he holds private meetings with voters before larger public events. The tight-lipped campaign has repeatedly refused to allow reporters to attend most of those small gatherings or provide lists of attendees, leaving it to Romney, himself, to fill in the blanks.
"In some of the towns that I go to, I ask to get a group of women business owners, and I meet with them. I have them describe their experiences," Romney told supporters at a fundraiser here last week.
A look at some of the women Romney says he has met during his presidential bid:
— WOMAN WHOSE HUSBAND TOOK UPHOLSTERY CLASS
Romney often recounts the story of one industrious woman whose husband lost his job and decided to take an upholstering class.
"I thought, 'That's a strange class to take,'" Romney said as he described the exchange.
The woman apparently thought so, too. Then she looked around and found there weren't many upholsterers in her area. It turned out that her husband was embarking on a new career — and she was, too. The woman started her own upholstery business and put her husband — and 40 others — to work.
"I thought that was pretty impressive," Romney said.
— WOMAN WHOSE HUSBAND DRAWS PICTURES
There's also a Hispanic woman he said he'd met who went to work — and found a job that matched her skill set — because her husband's job didn't pay very well.
"Her husband is a caricature artist," Romney explained to one audience. "It's hard to make a great living out of just being a caricature artist. He does caricatures at county fairs and so forth."
The woman, he said, decided not to leave the bread-winning to him alone.
"She was born in Mexico, speaks Spanish fluently and English," Romney said. So she found a job where fluency in two languages was necessary. Today, he said: "She translates construction manuals from English into Spanish." It's "just remarkable."
— WOMAN WHO RUNS A TRUCK COMPANY
Then there's the highly accomplished woman whose job — running "a very substantial trucking company" — speaks to her toughness.
"She described how she would purchase trucks year after year" and how she employs men and women alike to drive the big rigs, Romney said. She is waiting, however, to buy new equipment; she is uncertain how many new regulations or taxes Democrats might force upon her in the coming months and prefers to wait to purchase big-ticket items until a Republican is in the White House.
"She runs the place with a very strong hand. A very successful hand," he says.
— WOMAN WHO IS GOING BACK TO COLLEGE
A frequent story of Romney's is the one about the young woman he says he met in Cleveland who had just graduated from college but is going back to earn another undergraduate degree. The reason: She's struggling to make ends meet and doesn't have to start repaying her $40,000 student loan if she's still in school.
For now, Romney says, "she can't find a job so she's doing three part-time jobs." But he says she's heading back to college as soon as her loan payments begin.
"She doesn't know how they're going to make it," Romney said. "She's having a hard time."
— WOMAN WHO OWNS DUPLEXES
Sometimes, Romney tells the tale of an older woman he says he met in Appleton, Wis., who sells perfume in a department store. She and her husband didn't plan to still be working.
"They had expected to retire but the duplexes they bought — they had two duplexes — their values had become so depressed," Romney says.
He likens her to a number of other older women he's met who are finding the retirement years not as great as they'd expected.
"They're employed but they can't make ends meet the way they hoped," says Romney.
Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.