Gender gap daunting for GOP: Why women's vote is key
The gender gap for the next election is daunting for Mitt Romney as President Obama leads the likely GOP nominee among women in major polls. With simply more women voters, can he overcome it between now and November?
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The tide turned against the GOP when a Republican congressman held an all-male panel on the issue – leaving a female Georgetown Law student, Sandra Fluke, on the sidelines. When conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh called Ms. Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," the issue grew even more toxic for the Republicans. Suddenly, the debate centered on access to birth control and not on religious liberty.Skip to next paragraph
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By early March, polls showed women moving back toward the Democrats on the question of who should run Congress. In the 2010 midterms, Republicans won the women's vote for the first time in 37 years, returning control of the House to the GOP.
Democrats are intent on keeping reproductive rights front and center all the way to November. The "Republican war on women" has become a mantra. And they are highlighting efforts in state legislatures across the country to enact new regulations on abortion, including mandatory ultrasounds.
"Women are watching, and they're definitely not sitting this one out quietly," says Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List, a political-action committee for Democratic women candidates who favor abortion rights.
Membership in EMILY's List has doubled since the GOP retook the House, she says.
The Obama campaign is vigorously defending health reform as an avenue into the women's vote that's broader than the aspect dealing with contraception, though opinion polls show that more women than men oppose "Obamacare." To mark the second anniversary of the law's enactment on March 23, the campaign hosted phone banks of women calling women voters in battleground states and released videos of women who had benefited from the law. The campaign also launched an effort called "Nurses for Obama." The Democratic National Committee sent a million pieces of mail to women in battleground states.
The Obama campaign's goal is to inform women on the law's gender-related benefits – such as a ban on char ging women more than men for health insurance and no copays for mammograms and other health screenings – and build up a constituency for the law.
If all or part of the Affordable Care Act is found unconstitutional, a real possibility, Team Obama hopes to tap into a newly energized base of women who will see their rights under attack.
The GOP isn't standing idly by. The Republican National Committee is running an ad in battleground states slamming Obama for failing to reduce health-care costs as promised. Indeed, average premiums have risen, but only 1 percent of the increase can be attributed to the reform, says the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In the end, Republican strategists are under no illusions on the female vote. "Women are very pro-incumbent," says Kellyanne Conway, pollster for Newt Gingrich. "They don't like to rock the boat unless given a solid reason. But men are so down on him, he'll need 59 or 60 percent of women to win."