US presidential hopeful Barack Obama said he would stand up for the American family and reclaim the American dream if he took office.
The 46-year-old Democratic senator, who could be the first African American to be president of the United States, took part in a round-table discussion with eight working women in Des Moines, Iowa, ahead of a major fundraising dinner tonight.
The women, from Polk County, Iowa, told the presidential hopeful of the hardships they faced while juggling families and careers.
Mr Obama said he was raised by a single mother who, for most of his childhood, was struggling to work while still trying to get an education and raise two children.
“It was tough. There were times when she was really feeling as though she didn’t have much support,” he said.
“As I travel around the state, what I’ve been seeing is that people really feel like the American dream is slipping away a little bit. They’re working harder for less.
“They’ve never paid more for healthcare and college. They’re feeling like it’s harder to save and retire. And women in particular are bearing a lot of the burden.”
Earlier this week, as part of his “Change we can believe in” tour of the crucial election state of Iowa, Mr Obama said he planned to guarantee paid sick days, support and expand family and medical leave, and double funding for after-school programmes.
Speaking softly to the women while being watched by around 80 members of the media at the East Side Library in Des Moines, he went on: “As president of the United States I’m committed to making sure that we are helping people balance this juggling act that they’re engaged in between family and work.”
Mr Obama said he wanted to get a “sense of perspective and balance about who the government was working for”.
He told the women: “I want your agenda to be at the centre of the decision-making being made at the White House and the decision-making being made in Congress.”
Teresa Jones, one of the women who took part, said: “We need a president who will stand up to the special interests in Washington and work across the aisle to make progress on the challenges working women face.”
The invitation-only meeting came ahead of tonight’s Jefferson Jackson dinner which raises funds for state and local Democratic Parties ahead of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus on January 3.
More than 9,000 people are expected at the Polk County Convention Complex in Des Moines, Iowa, where Mr Obama will make speeches alongside Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.
The dinner, which honours former US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, has traditionally been used by presidential hopefuls to issue new themes or slogans and criticise opponents.
A recent poll of 399 registered Democrats by the Des Moines Register last month showed a tight race between Hillary Clinton (29%), John Edwards (23%) and Barack Obama (22%). The results showed 11% were yet to make up their minds.
With Mrs Clinton leading her opponents in other early primary states, a victory in Iowa is crucial for both Mr Obama and Mr Edwards.
And a defeat for the former First Lady there, if followed by a loss in the first primary in New Hampshire, would be devastating for her chances of returning to the White House.
Once both Democrats and Republicans nominate their candidates in 2008, national campaigning will get under way in force for the General Election on November 4.