Democrats' Women Problem in Colorado
What do women want? Freud’s question, yet to be fully answered, has roiled the contest for what should have been a safe Senate seat in Colorado.
Thinking he knew the answer to that query is how Senator Mark Udall, the Democratic incumbent, could end up losing his job to U.S. Representative Cory Gardner, a conservative Republican who is otherwise on the wrong side of so many issues that matter to Coloradans.
Defeat would be a shocker for Udall, who belongs to a storied political family and easily won his seat in 2008, even though he was the candidate who’d had the most money spent against him.
Back then, he ran a normal campaign. This time, he has almost exclusively centered his campaign on women while getting us almost completely wrong. Unfortunately for him, Freud's question can only be answered in the negative: We know what we don’t want, and that is to be treated like ninnies, the sum of our body parts, captives of gender.
Udall and his consultants -- who should be drummed out of politics for malpractice -- are running a campaign way beyond its sell-by date. Legend has it that in 2010, his fellow Democratic senator from Colorado, Michael Bennet, won a close race by concentrating on women’s issues. Of course, we don’t know whether Bennet won because he ran on women’s issues or whether he won while running on those issues among others.
If there’s one thing women keep an eye peeled for it’s men who try to manipulate them. If you are trying so hard to pander to us on one thing, it’s because you are assuming we are one-issue simpletons who won’t penalize you for ignoring all of the other things we care about. Turn me into a Barbie doll voter, and I will turn on you.
More than half of Udall’s ads are about Gardner relegating women to second-class citizenship and his attempts to limit their reproductive freedom, including access to contraception. Gardner outmaneuvered him by calling for over-the-counter birth control, which neutralized the issue (despite the fact that it would cost women more than it does if it's covered by insurance), but Udall kept at it. In its surprise endorsement of Gardner, the Denver Post wrote that in an "obnoxious one-issue campaign," Udall "has devoted a shocking amount of energy and money trying to convince voters that Gardner seeks to outlaw birth control."
Udall suffers from a lack of colorful enemies to fight. Had this been 2012, he could have counted Republican foils such as Missouri Representative Todd Akin, whose bid for a Senate seat crashed and burned after he spouted bizarre claims about women possessing natural defenses against getting pregnant if raped. Sadly for Udall, what’s left of Republican discipline kept ridiculous candidates out and put a muzzle on anyone who snuck through and might make a peep. Look around for gaffes. There aren’t any.
The gaffes are on the Democratic side. Because Udall’s message hasn’t caught on, he says it louder, like a boor with an unfunny joke, and thus opened the door to outside groups to go even further. Up went an ad asserting that Coloradans wouldn't have access to condoms should Gardner win. Shortly after that ad, Gardner got a big bump in the polls. A SurveyUSA pollpublished yesterday by the Denver Post, showed Gardner at 46 percent and Udall at 44 percent .
You can see how Udall took a wrong turn: He’s right about Gardner, and can’t believe voters won’t see it. On the merits, the Republican doesn’t care about women’s issues. In 2006, Gardner opposed legislation to allow pharmacists to prescribe emergency contraception, and proposed disallowing Medicaid to pay for Plan B emergency contraception. In 2007, he opposed a state House bill requiring hospitals to inform sexual assault victims of the availability of emergency contraception. He favored “personhood,” until it wasn’t to his advantage to do so and seems to have gotten away with it. Gardner would still ban some forms of birth control, and supports a federal bill that would do the same.
Consumed as he was with pointing this out, Udall didn’t move on to exploit Gardner’s real vulnerabilities, not just among women but also with voters across the political spectrum. Coloradans care about the environment, and Gardner decidedly doesn’t. He’s not sure human activity has anything to do with climate change. One of his first acts in Congress was to increase offshore drilling in Alaska, promote fracking, cheerlead for the Keystone XL pipeline and weaken the Environmental Protection Agency. On other matters, he wants to root out nonexistent fraud in the earned income tax credit, and is against same-sex marriage and any tax increases.
But now, with his Kennedy teeth and hair and upbeat manner, Gardner is getting to define himself while Udall now looks like the one-joke candidate. Multiple visits from Bill and Hillary Clinton and one from first lady Michelle Obama haven’t moved the needle in his direction.
Meanwhile, Gardner is so secure he can have the combustible governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, in for a spin around the state. Fresh off his "sit down and shut up" tirade at a heckler and from setting his own quarantine policy, Christie looked on top of the world welcoming a new senator into the fold.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.
To contact the author on this story:
Margaret Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at email@example.com