Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner's (R) decision to backtrack from his past support for a personhood amendment "“ outlawing abortion and potentially restricting forms of contraception -- was a telling moment in the battle for the Senate. It's a sign that Republicans are becoming more cognizant about the need to appeal to women and more socially-moderate voters. But it's also a signal that Republicans recognize the gender gap remains a serious problem.
-- Gardner's statement explaining his changed views was striking in its forthrightness: "I've learned to listen. I don't get everything right the first time," he said. But it's also the politically expedient thing to do. The gender gap in Colorado is gaping: A February Q poll showed just 36% of men thought Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) should be re-elected, while 48% of women agreed. A Hickman Analytics (D) poll from last month showed an even larger 17-point gender gap in Udall favorability.
-- A fascinating Public Opinion Strategies (R) analysis shows that despite gaining significant ground overall on the generic ballot since last October (government shutdown), Republicans actually lost ground with women aged 18-49 since then. Nearly all the GOP's gains have come from white voters and older voters. That may be good enough to win in a midterm year, but without improvement, it leaves Gardner with little room for error. He needs to improve on Ken Buck's dismal 39% showing among women in 2010.
-- Democrats view Gardner's flip-flop as an admission that the GOP can't win swing states without more centrist positioning on polarizing social issues. (It's reminiscent of Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman's similar backtracking on immigration, running in a redrawn district.) The DSCC has already hit MI SEN candidate Terri Lynn Land (R) for supporting the GOP's pro-life platform. It's a challenging tightrope to walk for the GOP: Cultural issues are a vital mobilizing force for social conservatives, but threaten to turn off younger voters, particularly women.
With even modest gains among female voters, Republicans should have a good chance to retake the Senate. But Gardner's ability to cut the gender gap in a pivotal battleground state will be a leading indicator of Republican performance in 2016.
-- Josh Kraushaar