How women voters are scrambling Senate races – in both directions

In Colorado and New Hampshire, women voters are moving toward the Republican. In Georgia and Iowa, they're moving toward the Democrat.

David Zalubowski/AP
First lady Michelle Obama (r.) is thanked by Sen. Mark Udall (D) of Colorado after a rally for his reelection campaign in Denver on Thursday.

In Colorado, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall now faces an uphill election battle, in part because his Republican opponent has gained some ground with women.

In Georgia, front-runner Republican David Perdue now faces a tightening race, in part because his Democratic opponent has done the same.

Women voters have been seen as a key demographic in the Nov. 4 midterm elections. That is bearing out in several Senate races in battleground states, as movement among women voters is leading to movement in the polls. In some cases, it is toward the Republican. In others, it is toward the Democrat. In a number of cases, however, it is making tight races even tighter.

Senator Udall’s struggle to fend off Republican Cory Gardner in Colorado included a Denver rally alongside first lady Michelle Obama Thursday. She was there to drive women and minority voters to the polls – and to support Udall.

“Barack [Obama] won because record numbers of women and minorities showed up to vote,” the first lady said. “And when the midterms came along, too many of our people tuned out” instead of turning out.

In general, a higher turnout of women still helps Democrats, since women prefer Democrats, according to polls. Nationwide, the gap in preferences between women and men was evident in a recent Fox News poll. When asked whether they would generally vote for a Democrat or a Republican in their own district, 48 percent of women favored a Democrat and 38 percent a Republican. Among men, the preferences were reversed, with 54 percent for Republicans and 36 percent for Democrats.

Democrats have put special emphasis on mobilizing women as a core piece of their strategy for fending off a Republican bid to take the Senate. And although they have made missteps in some key states, they have remained competitive in others partly by bolstering their support from female voters.

But in Colorado, Mr. Gardner is narrowing the gap.

He has taken a slim overall lead against Udall by adding five percentage points to his support from likely women voters (bringing his total support among women to 41 percent). Gardner has also drawn new support from men, but at a much slower clip.

Women voters in Colorado still lean toward Udall, with 48 percent favoring him, according to a poll by the Denver Post and Survey USA. But Gardner’s gains, coupled with the 8 percent of Colorado women who are still undecided, suggest that Udall’s strategy of emphasizing reproductive rights in an attempt to build a huge lead among women voters hasn’t solidified his election prospects as he might have hoped.

Likewise, in the New Hampshire Senate contest, Republican Scott Brown was favored by 44 percent of likely female voters in a poll released Thursday by American Research Group. That’s up from 41 percent in the same poll about a month earlier, but still well behind the 53 percent of women voters who favor incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. The race is currently very close with many pundits favoring Senator Shaheen to win.

Georgia and Iowa, however, are examples of states where recent polls have shown women voters swinging toward the Democrat in Senate races.

In Georgia, Michelle Nunn has gained on Republican David Perdue in part by drawing more women to her side. A new Survey USA poll finds Ms. Nunn backed by 51 percent of likely women voters, up from 49 percent a month before. Mr. Perdue's support has fallen from 41 percent of women to 38 percent.

In Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst – a candidate who can emphasize the title “mom” in ads – hasn't been able keep women from moving toward her Democratic opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley.

Representative Braley draws 53 percent of likely women voters in a Quinnipiac University poll of Iowans released Thursday. That’s up from 50 percent in a poll a month earlier.

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