Democrats Revive the ‘War on Women’ Against Republican Senate Candidates

Michigan Republican Terri Lynn Land ridicules the attacks in her first TV ad.

A member of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Pro-Choice America protest with their 'Etch A Sketch' in hand protest outside a hotel in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
April 22, 2014, 10:29 a.m.

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.

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