Women Voters Haunted by the GOP's Tricks

Single women and women of color don’t typically turn out big for midterm elections. But the stakes are too high this Tuesday for any woman to stay home.

10.31.14 9:45 AM ET

Halloween ain’t just for kids anymore: Republican candidates across the country are carefully trying to disguise their wildly unpopular and frightening anti-women policies. And as these Republicans go knocking at the doors of women voters this election season, it’s all trick and no treat.

In the short-term of this election cycle, the Democrats’ biggest challenge is that, while their actual policy positions and beliefs align with a substantial majority of women voters, many don’t turn out strongly in midterm elections. This is especially true of single women and women of color, who are both essential parts of the Democratic coalition.

But the problem for Republicans is much deeper, one the party literally cannot mask: that no matter how much they try and dress it up in soft rhetoric, Republican’s extremist views on economic and social policy hurts women, and drives away women voters.

Consider Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Walker has made it clear that he opposes abortion in all cases, including instances of rape or incest. He has also defunded Planned Parenthood in his state’s budget, co-authored legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and indicated that he would back a fetal personhood law that would further restrict women’s choice.

But now, facing a tough re-election, Walker is trying to soften his rhetoric.

“I’m pro-life, but there is no doubt in my mind, the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy is an agonizing one,” Walker says in a campaign ad. “That’s why I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options.” Except Walker very explicitly wants to restrict those options. But we wouldn’t want the voters to be distracted by details…

Walker also ran an ad masquerading as a champion for equal pay measures — even though he led the repeal of Wisconsin’s equal pay law. Thankfully, women in Wisconsin don’t seem to be falling for it. In fact, Walker’s strategy may be backfiring.

Despite the fact that Walker’s opponent is a woman, it had looked like the candidates were effectively tied with women voters. Now, however, it appears that Democrat Mary Burke leads among women by six points.

You might assume that when the Republican candidate is a woman, the tables are turned. Not so when those Republican women candidates are espousing the same extremist anti-choice and anti-equality policies. In Iowa, Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst is famous for her campaign ad about how she grew up cutting the balls off of hogs, and now she wants to cut off rights for women.

Ernst has said she would support federal “fetal personhood” legislation, and she voted for a fetal personhood law when she was in the Iowa state legislature. “I will continue to stand by that. I am a pro-life candidate,” Ernst said, defending her extremist anti-choice views in her Senate bid.

And yet… Faced with attacks from her Democratic opponent Bruce Braley and anxiety on the part of women voters in Iowa, Ernst has, as the Washington Post put it, tried “to cover her tracks.” “That amendment is simply a statement that I support life,” Ernst said, trying to distance herself from her own advocacy for fetal personhood legislation. Except that, no, voting for a law isn’t just a statement. It’s, you know, an attempt to make a law—a law that would infringe on the bodies and choices of every woman in the state.

That’s why, even though Joni Ernst is herself a woman and ++leads with male voters++ by a 17-point margin over Braley, Braley is beating Ernst with women voters by an 8-point spread.

Then there’s Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner, who not only backed but also actively campaigned for a fetal personhood measure in Colorado that his opponent has been hounding him over ever since. It’s earned Democratic Sen. Mark Udall the teasing nickname “Mark Uterus” but the joke is on Republicans—women voters in Colorado clearly don’t like Gardner’s track record trying to trample on their basic rights.

“If Cory Gardner loses in Colorado, he’ll have ‘personhood’ to thank,” said the Washington Post. At the moment, while the latest polls show Gardner with the overall lead, women voters in Colorado favor Udall.

Of course, women voters support Udall and Burke and Braley and other Democrats because the Democrats support women’s basic rights and equality. And polling by NARAL Pro-Choice America shows that 7 in 10 likely voters in America—across the political spectrum—support legal access to abortion.

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A strong majority of women and voters support broad access to birth control, including the contraception mandate in Obamacare that Republicans have viciously attacked. And nearly 4 in 10 Americans say equal pay is the top issue facing working women today.

It would appear that some Republicans realize this, particularly Scott Walker and Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner and others trying desperately to disguise their draconian positions to win women voters.

But that still leaves us with two questions we head into Tuesday.

The first is whether the Republicans will ever change their positions instead of just trying to come off as cuddly moderates at election time. And the second is if women will turn out to the polls to prevent these conservative extremists from placing even more restrictions on women’s rights and opportunities.