Forget job growth or the deficit. A pair of TV ads released Tuesday suggests the 2014 elections will dive headfirst into a fierce debate over women's issues.
The new on-air missives came from a pair of marquee Senate campaigns: Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado and Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land of Michigan, both of whom are in competitive races in battleground states. And because each is the first TV ad from either campaign, they will set the tone for the races' next six months.
In Udall's case, the incumbent took aim at Rep. Cory Gardner's prior support of so-called personhood legislation. The hard-hitting ad accuses the GOP congressman of opposing abortion rights in cases of rape and incest and of "championing an eight-year crusade to outlaw common forms of birth control."
"It comes down to respect," a female narrator says in the ad. "For women, and our lives."
The ad buy, according to the campaign, is worth $500,000 spread over two weeks.
It's not surprising that Udall is taking aim at Gardner's position on abortion rights and contraception access: His campaign telegraphed those attacks from the minute the Republican unexpectedly entered the race in February. Democrats successfully used a social-issue playbook in the last competitive Senate race in cosmopolitan Colorado, when Michael Bennet (now chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) won a narrow victory in 2010, and Gardner himself renounced his support of personhood legislation shortly after entering his race.
It might surprise, however, that the campaign is going negative in April, an indication of the danger Democrats believe the well-funded Gardner poses.
Negative ads like Udall's are part of a Democratic political attack against Republicans known as the "War on Women," a charge the party leveled with success in the 2012 elections. And they explain why Land's campaign ran its own ad in Michigan, a spot designed to rebut charges that she's insensitive to women's issues.
"Congressman Gary Peters and his buddies want you to believe I'm waging a war on women," Land says, speaking into the camera. "Really? Think about that for a moment."
Land then stops talking as elevator music plays in the background, as she drinks from a coffee mug and checks her watch.
"I'm Terri Lynn Land and I approve this message because, as a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters," she said.
The ad is one of the most visible pushbacks yet from Republicans, who believe they were hurt badly two years ago in part because the party mustered only a muted counterargument to Democratic attacks geared toward female voters. (They also had to deal with fallout from nominee Todd Akin's controversial "legitimate rape" comments on abortion in the 2012 Missouri Senate race, and Indiana Senate nominee Richard Mourdock's opposition to abortion for rape victims.) And it comes as Democrats promise to revive the attacks this year, in particular focusing on Republicans who have supported Personhood legislation in the past.
Democrats have said they need to dwell on such issues in part to drive up turnout among single women, a key constituency that votes in disproportionately fewer numbers during midterm elections.
Not all early TV ads from Senate candidates mention women's issues: In many of the red states in play this year, most of the discussion has focused on more finically themed issues like Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare. But at least in a pair of blue states, 2014 is picking up right where 2012 left off. Welcome to the War Over Women.