Senate Dems pin 2014 hopes on women

Senate Democrats’ agenda for the next few weeks will be tailor-made toward female voters — a strategy they hope will give them a boost with the crucial voting bloc. 

Three of the next items on the Senate’s to-do list protect, and are meant to appeal to, women: military sexual assault legislation, a minimum wage increase and the Paycheck Fairness Act. 

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“Women will determine the Senate, and both parties are targeting women,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster and strategist. “What Republicans are hoping to do is to minimize the Democratic vote among women, and if they can win men by more than they lose women, then they’ll win the election.”

She said Democrats are hoping for a large vote among women and especially for high turnout of unmarried and young women, who “delivered the vote for the Democrats in the Virginia governor’s race.” 

Lake said that unmarried women supported Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) by 42 points.

“That’s why he’s governor — it really muted the disadvantages he had with other groups of voters,” she said.

That McAuliffe was able to get those groups to turn out in an off-year election gives a sense of hope for Democrats, who want to replicate the result in a midterm year, when much of their base tends not to turn out, compared to the GOP base. 

In another move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday emphasized the impact of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour on female voters.

“Raising the minimum wage isn’t just about helping teenagers earn some extra cash. Two-thirds of the people working for minimum wage are women,” he said.

Earlier this month, Reid held a press conference with Lilly Ledbetter, an activist for women’s pay equity, to lay the groundwork for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is expected to move at the committee level in March.

“We’re going to bring this up,” he said standing before television cameras with Ledbetter, who became famous for suing her former employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., for paying her substantially less than her male coworkers.

Reid gave Democratic candidates ammo for political ads in the last election by putting the Paycheck Fairness bill on the Senate floor in June of 2012. Republicans voted in unison to block the bill, and Democrats worked to brand the GOP as being against equal pay. 

Eight female Senate Democrats held a photo op with Ledbetter on Jan. 28 in advance of President Obama’s State of the Union address, a speech that emphasized the positive impact of the Democratic agenda on female voters.

Healthcare is another area where Democrats hope women see the benefits. Obama has emphasized the equal treatment of men and women under the Affordable Care Act when defending the unpopular law.

“No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman,” Obama declared before the joint session of Congress. 

The president also called for universal pre-kindergarten education, another proposal popular among women.

Female voters helped Obama win reelection, and Senate Democrats unexpectedly picked up two seats in 2012. Obama beat Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee, by 11 points among women, which Gallup called the largest gender gap in presidential election history. 

Polls show the calamitous rollout of ObamaCare has eroded that advantage, frightening Senate Democrats facing reelection this year. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in December showed that 40 percent of college-educated white women had a very unfavorable view of the law, while 50 percent of white women held such a view.

Republicans see those flaws to their advantage, though, and plan to press the unpopularity of ObamaCare among female voters to narrow the gender gap.

“Democrats are going to do everything that they can to try to change the subject from ObamaCare, and the fact of the matter is in this country, whether you are a man or a woman, you were lied to by this president,” said Katie Packer Gage, a Republican strategist who specifically focuses on the GOP’s efforts to appeal to female voters. 

“If there’s one thing that all women can agree on it’s that they don’t like being lied to,” she said. “They’ve been misled and I think they’re going to be taking a very close look at the candidates that made these promises to them.”

In Virginia, Ed Gillespie, the likely Republican nominee, has emphasized Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-Va.) promise that he would not support a healthcare plan “that’s going to take away the healthcare you’ve got right now or a healthcare plan that you like.”

Lake said the issue of military sexual assault, like the Democrats’ stance promoting insurance coverage of contraception, is one that appeals to many female voters, even if they are not directly affected.

“Do you show that you get women’s lives? That you’re in touch with their priorities? Are you in touch with what they care about? That is the whole choice agenda, the birth-control agenda, the sexual assault in the military agenda,” she said.

Gage, who served as Romney’s deputy campaign manager in 2012, said Obama achieved a huge lead among women by waging an aggressive and expensive media campaign narrowly tailored to women.

She said the Senate Democratic agenda is more show than substance, arguing that Republicans also want to achieve equal pay between the sexes but don’t view the federal intervention as the best solution.

Gage said 2012 was the first time Democrats employed an aggressive and expensive campaign narrowly tailored to the female vote, but that Republicans would be ready to respond this time. 

“For the first time in history the Democrats really aggressively went after women very specifically on reproductive issues,” she said. “They had for the first time ever a very aggressive, a very expensive media campaign to portray Mitt Romney as somebody who was going to take away your birth control.”