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War on Women Is Democratic Rallying Call Against Republicans

War on Women Is 2012 Democrat Rallying Cry
Teachers and their supporters gather to protest the passing of the bill named SB 6 by the Florida legislator on April 12, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Democrats and allied groups including Emily’s List are framing Republican moves to cut federal spending as a war on women, an effort aimed at influencing the 2012 elections.

Support from women voters helped propel Republican gains in the 2010 elections. Democrats are hoping to reverse that next year by arguing that measures including the Republican push to end traditional Medicare would disproportionately affect women, who live longer than men.

Republican efforts to repeal collective-bargaining rights for public employees also are being characterized as anti-woman. For example, 73 percent of the American Federation of Teachers’ 1.5 million members are female.

Analysts say the success of the Democratic message likely would increase the party’s chances of holding the White House and Senate, and possibly winning a House majority.

“The Republicans have handed the Democrats a gift,” said Leonie Huddy, a political science professor at Stony Brook University in New York. “If they play it right, they have exactly the issue that will attract women voters to them.”

Concerned over the U.S. economy, women backed Republican congressional candidates a year ago by 49 percent to 48 percent, according to a CNN exit poll, a break with the traditional support female voters have provided Democrats. Four years earlier, when Democrats ended 12 years of Republican control on Capitol Hill, they received 55 percent of women’s votes.

Obama Support

In 2008, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama received the votes of 56 percent of women compared with 49 percent of men.

Last month, Democrat Kathy Hochul benefited from efforts to galvanize women voters in winning a special election in New York’s Republican-leaning 26th Congressional District. Emily’s List, which supports female Democrats who back abortion rights, and Planned Parenthood helped Hochul make the Republican plan to end traditional Medicare the centerpiece of her campaign.

“Women rightfully feel more economically vulnerable,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “They’re aligning themselves with the political party they believe is more supportive of maintaining that social safety net.”

Medicare Issue

The House Republican budget bill passed in April, proposed by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, would end traditional Medicare for anyone turning 65 in 2022 and later. Instead, future seniors would receive subsidies to buy private insurance. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that most seniors would pay more for health care under Ryan’s plan.

A May 25-30 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found just 32 percent of women -- and 25 percent of women 50 and older -- supporting Ryan’s plan. Among men, 39 percent supported it, as did 33 percent of those 50 and older. The survey of 1,509 adults had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Emily’s List cited the Medicare plan as it singled out nine House Republican freshmen as its first targets next year, months earlier than in the last election. They are Paul Gosar of Arizona, Allen West of Florida, Robert Dold and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, Joe Heck of Nevada, Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass of New Hampshire and Steve Stivers of Ohio.

Meetings With Candidates

NARAL Pro-Choice America, a Washington-based group that supports abortion rights, has been meeting with prospective candidates it might back since January, earlier than usual for the group. It’s also updating its voter guide on women’s issues rather than waiting until a few months before the elections.

“We’re getting out there a lot sooner,” said Elizabeth Shipp, NARAL’s political director.

To help increase turnout next year among women likely to support her party, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has created a website and Facebook page. The effort is called “Off the Sidelines,” and Gillibrand cites Medicare and other budget cuts Republicans have proposed as reasons for women to get involved in politics.

Some women “don’t understand or feel politics is relevant to them,” Gillibrand said. “Until we put all the issues on the table, it’s going to be difficult to get them off the sidelines.”

Planned Parenthood Dispute

Issues that have spurred the heightened political activity by Democratic-leaning women’s groups include the vote in April by the Republican-controlled House to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood because it offers abortions in some locations. The organization focuses on providing health services for women, including cancer screenings.

Republican lawmakers also have proposed funding cuts for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program that would leave up to 475,000 low-income recipients of the aid without federal help, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research group.

The Republican budget plan “is principally distinguished by one thing: It is hard on women and children, from birth to old age,” said U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat.

Republicans say the budget cuts are necessary to shrink the deficit and improve the economy, as they pledged to do in the 2010 campaign. They express confidence that public concern over these issues will undercut the Democratic pitch to women voters.

Message Game

“This is exactly the place Democrats always go when they realize they’re losing the message game and become desperate,” said Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Unfortunately for them, Americans know that Republicans were the ones who shifted the debate in Washington to one of cutting spending and growing the economy.”

Republican-allied women’s groups are helping make the party’s case. The Washington-based Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion and spent $1.8 million last year in support of Republican congressional candidates, ran radio ads in April against Democratic Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, criticizing them for supporting Planned Parenthood.

“America just doesn’t want their money wrapped up in abortion, especially when things are fiscally tight,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said.

The Democratic-leaning women’s groups see evidence that their arguments are making headway.

Online Petition

An online Planned Parenthood petition opposing the push to cut the group’s funding garnered 810,000 names, expanding the group’s mailing list by more than 400,000, said spokesman Tait Sye. The group’s Facebook fans grew to 173,000 in May from 100,000 in January.

Emily’s List collected 80,000 e-mail addresses on two websites it set up to oppose Republican proposals.

“Republicans are waging war against the very things that keep women and their families thriving,” said Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for Emily’s List. “That is a huge motivator for women to run and for women voters to turn out.”

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