FOLLOWING the example of US Republican candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, Margie Abbott has delivered a vigorous personal testimonial to her husband, in which she condemned the ''gender card'' being played by his opponents.
In a media blitz to counter Labor's pitch to portray Tony Abbott as having a problem with women, Mrs Abbott said she was not political ''but just don't ever try and tell me that my husband of 24 years and the father of three daughters is on some anti-women crusade. It's simply not true.''
To bolster his argument that he has no difficulty with powerful women Mr Abbott, introducing his wife, declared his chief of staff Peta Credlin ''is in some ways the de facto deputy leader of the opposition''.
This description of Ms Credlin - whom some Liberals believe has too much influence with Mr Abbott - was especially startling as the Deputy Opposition Leader is Julie Bishop, who went unmentioned.
In a speech titled The Joy of an Ordinary Life, made to a business lunch in the Sydney seat of Lindsay, Mrs Abbott said she wanted to respond to the idea ''that somehow Tony doesn't get women and that he is somehow immune to the influences of the women in his life.
''I believe a disservice is being done to women when the gender card is played to shut down debate about policy.
''I say to the people who claim that Tony Abbott doesn't 'get' women: you get this - Tony Abbott is surrounded by strong women; in fact, not only strong but capable women.''
The lunch was attended by a bevy of Abbott women: his mother Fay, two of his sisters, Pip and Christine, and one of his three daughters, Frances.
Over the past year, Mr Abbott's approval in the Nielsen poll has been lower among women than among men by an average of 5 points. The Coalition primary vote has been an average of 3 points lower among women than men over the past year, and an average of 6 points lower over the past six months.
The pushback from the Abbott camp included spreads featuring Mrs Abbott in the News Ltd tabloids, her appearance with Mr Abbott on Nine's Today Show yesterday, radio, and an interview on Sky this morning.
As well as trying to influence the polls and fighting Labor's campaign in which Labor female ministers (dubbed by the Liberals the ''handbag hit squad'') often feature, Mrs Abbott's speech highlighted the Abbotts as a family.
Their lives were not extraordinary; ''they are very ordinary - it's just that we now happen to be in an extraordinary situation'', she said. She spoke of balancing work and family and described herself - she runs a non-profit childcare centre - as ''effectively a small business operator''.
Against the background of recent publicity about Mr Abbott's youthful stridency about feminists, Mrs Abbott said: ''Do you want to know how God turns a man into a feminist? He gives him three daughters.''
She cast her husband as the perpetual optimist, and as someone who ''likes to make a competition of everything''.
''I don't pretend that public life is easy for my family'', she said, ''but it has been made easier by the type of person Tony is, and the steadfast support he has been to me and the girls.''
Originally from New Zealand, Mrs Abbott admitted she had once been a member of the New Zealand Labour Party. Mr Abbott's office said she wrote the speech herself.