DERRY, N.H. - Emmakate Paris was a one-woman tornado, whipping through the racks at a thrift shop, hunting for Halloween costumes. The holiday is a small indulgence in a life that Paris, 41, said is consumed by worries -- "about the kids, insurance, vacation, school, taxes, the price of gas, everything."
She voted for Barack Obama in 2008 but is now torn. Obama has not lived up to his promise, she said. "My husband and I both have to work full time and we're just getting by."
But she is not thrilled with Mitt Romney either. She said he would set women back because he does not understand their needs. "Women worked so hard to get where we are today and to take our rights away from us is -- no," she said.
Behold the coveted female swing voter of 2012. She has slipped a rung or two down the economic ladder from the "soccer moms" of the more prosperous 1990s, as indicated by her new nickname -- "waitress mom." Rather than ferrying children around the suburbs in minivans, her defining characteristic is spinning in the hamster wheel of a tight economy and not getting ahead.
A distinct demographic
The quadrennial obsession with winning over female voters can sometimes lead to mythmaking. Pollsters now question the validity of soccer moms as a distinct voting bloc; the term came into vogue in the 1996 presidential election, but vanished soon thereafter.
Whether or not the term "waitress moms" endures, it defines a distinct demographic: blue-collar white women who did not attend college. And they are getting a lot of attention from both campaigns as the election barrels toward its conclusion because even at this late date, pollsters say, many have not settled on a candidate. They feel no loyalty to one party or the other, though they tend to side with Republicans.
"Blue-collar women are most likely to be the remaining movable part of the electorate, which is precisely why both campaigns are going at them as hard as they are," said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.
What matters most
About 9 percent of all voters in 2008 were white women without college degrees who had an annual household income of less than $50,000, exit polls said.
Economic issues are clearly the focus for women in this blue-collar town in Rockingham County, which Obama won in 2008 by less than 1 percent of the vote.
Michelle Trulson, 39, actually is a waitress (not all waitress moms are waitresses, of course, nor are they all mothers). She works a second as a lab technician. Fearing that Romney would undercut her attempts to provide for her family -- and end funding for Planned Parenthood -- she supports Obama. "I'm a single mom," she said. "I'm not on welfare, I do work, I don't collect food stamps. But my kids need insurance, so they're on Medicaid and I don't want that messed with."
And the economy is the reason that Ashley Delpidio, 26, who works in customer service for a health insurance company, supports Romney. "I'm a woman, so obviously I believe in woman's rights," she thought Romney would do better at creating jobs.