Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hobby Lobby and the Midterms

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)
Earlier this week, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) found herself in an uncomfortable position.  At a forum regarding Republican messaging and specifically how to appeal to women, Ellmers said that men "talk about things on a much higher level" and that the GOP needs to "bring it down to a woman's level."

The media pounced on this, and while Ellmers is safe in her district (though she's been out-earned, for what it's worth, by her opponent, former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken), this is one more log to the fire about the Democrats' "War on Women" argument.  Ellmers is probably a bit more insulated against attacks than Todd Akin (fairly or unfairly, because of her gender), but this is part of a message that Democrats are desperate to bring front-and-center in the national election.

This was on full display Wednesday when the Senate voted to overturn the Hobby Lobby verdict.  Every Democrat (except Harry Reid, for procedural reasons) voted to overturn the Hobby Lobby verdict, with only three Republicans (including the only one representing a blue state in this year's Senate elections, Susan Collins) joining them.  As a result, the Democrats couldn't beat the filibuster and the bill didn't pass the Senate.  More importantly for the Democrats, though, is that they have all these Republicans on record as killing the bill.

Women have pulled a significant amount of press since the 2012 election, primarily because of the intense gender gap between men and women in whom they are voting for.  While women have been more likely to vote for the Democrat for president rather than the Republican for decades (the last time men favored the Democrat more than women was 1976), in 2012 the gender gap was 20-points.  Amongst single women, 67% voted for Barack Obama.  These are enormous numbers, and with the number of single women growing in the country, this is just another demographic problem that Republicans need to stop.

The major thing about the Hobby Lobby verdict was how either side could frame it.  On paper, people favor both respecting someone's religious freedom and someone making the best medical choices for themselves.  Since the verdict, though, the Democrats have done a better job at framing this debate around birth control and particularly whether or not an employer should have the right to interfere with an employee's medical decisions.  They were aided by blistering dissents from some of the female justices on the Court, practically written in political ad talking points.

A few races in particular seem to be hugely important for the Hobby Lobby verdict, namely in Colorado and North Carolina.  Both of these states have Republicans who have not only a pro-life stance, but a pretty staunch conservative voting record in the state legislature.  Cory Gardner (R-CO) voted against a bill requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception in the case of sexual assault and has a history of statements with "personhood."  This is a concept that Thom Tillis also supports, and was the ringleader of the infamous "Motorcycle Abortion Bill" which only 34% of North Carolinians supported.  An election cycle that would focus more on personhood and birth control rather than other issues would put Gardner and Tillis on the defensive for most of the year and would likely result in better turnout amongst single women, which would greatly help Mark Udall and Kay Hagan in their respective Senate races (and therefore help the Democrats hold the Senate as wins by these two wouldn't guarantee a majority but would be a big step in that direction).

I brought up Renee Ellmers for three reasons at the beginning of this article.  One, it's a bizarre comment coming from someone who must have known reporters were in the room.  Two, how Ellmers is treated is going to be an interesting case study for two Senate races in Iowa and Michigan.  Both Senate races have female candidates running under the Republican banner against Democratic men.  Both female candidates have been highly skeptical and very publicly derided the Democrats' "War on Women" (it was part of Terri Lynn Land's first campaign ad), but statistics have shown that gender doesn't matter as much as party label when it comes to the way that women vote.  Watching how their Democratic opponents try to attack them will be an interesting case study, as both Bruce Braley in Iowa and Gary Peters in Michigan desperately need more female voters at the polls, but may look odd attacking their opponents for being "anti-women."

The final reason I started with Ellmers is because her statements recall former Rep. Todd Akin's.  Right now Akin is off giving Mitch McConnell an ulcer promoting his book and saying deeply controversial things about why he lost after his "legitimate rape" comments in 2012.  Republicans have had a history of saying controversial and sometimes campaign-ruining things about women in the past two election cycles when it comes to discussions of birth control and women's reproductive rights.  Ellmers aside, the GOP has largely sidestepped that this year, but Hobby Lobby being front-and-center invites more harsh questions that the Republicans want to avoid.  Democrats would love if this were the defining issue of the election (it won't be, but it could be significant) because it's generally a winner for them, at least in terms of getting out the base (there's a reason that immigration reform, voting rights, gay marriage, and birth control are all things the left loves talking about-they're bread-and-butter issues for Democrats who sometimes stay home when the White House isn't up for grabs).  If it continues to be an issue, it could well take down one or two Republican challengers in tight races, which would be the Senate.  Therefore, expect this Senate vote to be the beginning of the Democrats' assault on the Supreme Court verdict, and not the end of it.

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