Democrats are putting the Supreme Court in their crosshairs, using its decision against ObamaCare’s contraception mandate to rally their base ahead of the midterm elections.
Within hours of the high court’s decision that closely held companies cannot be compelled to offer contraception coverage as part of their employee health plans, Democrats were trying to raise cash and rally voters to their side.
“It could play in almost all of the key Senate races,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told The Hill.
Democrats particularly think it will help them bring out young, unmarried women and minority voters who normally sit out midterm elections, as they try to hold onto the Senate and cut into the GOP’s House advantage.
“It'll be useful in terms of get out the vote for unmarried women under 55 and also for younger women and women of color who have plummeting turnout rates in midterms,” Lake said.
Republicans also sought to use the ruling to rally their base, labeling it a major win for religious freedom and a triumph over President Obama.
“This reignites the base. It chips away at ObamaCare, and if there exists the idea with Republicans that ObamaCare can be repealed that will ignite the base, get them excited again,” said GOP pollster Chris Wilson, who has polled on the issue for the conservative Family Research Council.
Democrats jumped on the ruling, pointing out that most women have used birth control in their lives and framing the decision as allowing employers to determine female employees’ health choices.
Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and John Walsh (D-Mont.), and Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) have all previously made an issue out of their opponents’ views on abortion or other related issues like support for a personhood amendment.
“Bosses should not be able to prevent access to family planning and birth control for Alaska women,” Begich said in a statement, while his campaign manager attacked his Republican opponents for supporting “this gross violation of privacy” and accusing them of having an “anti-family, anti-woman agenda.”
“Gary is very concerned that today’s decision will turn back the clock on Michigan women who should be in charge of their healthcare decisions,” Peters campaign spokeswoman Haley Morris said. “Michigan women cannot trust Terri Lynn Land, when she supports partisan proposals that would restrict access to contraception and outlaw abortion without exception.”
Polling shows a mixed picture on whether voters agree with the court that employers should be able to opt out of offering contraceptive coverage if they have a religious objection.
Surveys have varied widely on the issue, with numbers swinging dramatically depending on how the question is worded. Majorities seem to approve of the mandate itself, but those numbers drop when people are asked about an exemption because of religious liberty. Those differing numbers indicate most voters aren’t closely attuned to the issue — but that doesn’t mean it can’t appeal to crucial demographics.
Democrats see the fight as one that could motivate voters without alienating independents, even in most red states.
The response from Udall’s opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), reflected the danger the issue poses for GOP candidates. Gardner has been fighting hard to shed his previous support for a personhood amendment that many experts believe could ban some common forms of birth control.
“The Court made the right decision today to protect religious liberty and the First Amendment,” Gardner said in a statement. "The Food and Drug Administration now needs to move quickly to make oral contraceptives available to adults without a prescription. This easy step will make oral contraceptives both accessible and affordable for every woman who wants them. It’s common sense and it’s the right thing to do.”
Republicans argue the issue cuts both ways, especially in more religious Southern states.
“It’s a double-edged sword. It also has the possibility of driving up low-propensity voters on the religious liberty side,” said Wilson. “This matters most in states with high evangelical or Catholic populations. The Supreme Court just lent credibility that Obama is overreaching on religious liberty.”
While the national party was blasting the decision, Democrats in some of those red-leaning states were noticeably less vocal.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) remained mum. Georgia Senate candidate Michelle Nunn (D) said she disagreed with the decision but didn’t use it to attack her opponents.
Meanwhile, Pryor used the ruling to attack his opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), for opposing ObamaCare’s protections for women more broadly. Cotton was one of the few Senate Republican candidates to come out blasting the ruling.
Democratic strategists believe the ruling could help reignite their argument that Republicans are waging a “war on women” on both economic and healthcare issues.
“One of the things we were seeing with the war on women, is people were getting a bit numb to it, and this shows it's really happening. It makes it really current, and it's a bright line; people can readily understand whether your insurance is covering contraception or not is a clear issue, and the war on women had shifted from healthcare to economic issues, and this Hobby Lobby case brackets both,” said Lake.
That’s not to mention the cash Democrats will pull in thanks to the reaction to the polarizing decision. On Monday, their well-honed targeting machine was already in motion, hoping to raise small-donor donations on the final day of the second fundraising quarter.
“Friend — it’s outrageous,” began one Monday email pitch from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Just hours ago, the Supreme Court handed corporations the power to deny women birth control coverage. It’s a sad day for America.”