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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Women Candidates and Voters Central to Dem Hopes for 2014

The National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher asks an important question about the 2014 elections, “Can Democrats Still Win With a Women-Centered Strategy?” Subtitled “Democrats want 2014 to be a Year of the Woman (and women’s issues), betting that the GOP’s 2012 gender gap holds for another cycle,” Goldmacher’s post adds some clarity to the discussion about Democratic grand strategy for the 2014 campaign.
Democrats are appropriately nervous about the relatively low non-presidential year turnout of their key constituencies and the correspondingly high voting percentages of the more pro-GOP demographic groups. Historical patterns are hard to deny, and it’s an uphill argument to counter that 2014 will somehow be different. Yet some unusual trends emerged during the last year, including rock-bottom approval ratings for the GOP, which includes a sharp downturn among senior voters, who tend to lead off-year turnout percentages.
Then there is the GOP shutdown wild card, which many believe will be largely forgotten a year from now. But Democrats might pick up a small number of seats with some well-targeted reminders, and the explosive growth of Latino voters should also help contain the Republicans’ expected gains. Dems hope, further, that gridlock fatigue and an economic uptick in the coming months will also give them enough of an edge to hold the senate and cut deep into the GOP majority in the House.
Many believe, however, that the Republicans’ rapidly declining support among women could be the pivotal factor next November. As Goldmacher notes,

The Democratic Party is hoping 2014 will be a Year of the Woman–again…As party operatives prepare for the 2014 midterm elections, Democratic women are being cast in starring roles, on the ballot and at the ballot box, as the party tries to take back politically important governor’s mansions and keep its fragile majority in the Senate.
“The importance of women to the Democratic Party in 2014 cannot be overstated,” said Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for EMILY’s List, which recruits and supports Democratic women candidates. “They are running in our biggest, most important races in the country.”

Goldmacher notes that Democrats are fielding some strong women candidates in high-profile state-wide races in 2014, including Wendy Davis (TX Gov.) Alison Lundergan Grimes (KY Senate), Mary Burke (WI Gov.), Allyson Schwartz (PA Gov), Michelle Nunn (GA Senate) and Natalie Tennant (WV Senate). Democratic strategists “believe the slate of prominent women on the 2014 ballot will make the contrast with Republicans all the clearer ,” says Goldmacher.
He warns, however, that Democratic U.S. Senators Landrieu and Hagan hold two of the most endangered seats being heavily-targeted by Republicans, and GA, WV and KY remain tough states for Democratic candidates. The GOP is fielding some women candidates as well, but most of them seem lackluster in comparison to Democratic women candidates, like Wendy Davis. Further, ads Goldmacher,

The recent victory of Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race showed that issues of abortion and contraception remain salient. McAuliffe bombarded the airwaves on those topics en route to running up his margin of victory among unmarried women voters to 42 percentage points, according to exit polling.
“It’s a deep problem for the Republicans,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The Supreme Court’s announcement last week that it will take up a case about whether employers may refuse to provide contraceptive coverage means that the volatile issue of birth control again will be injected in the midst of the 2014 campaign. The case will be decided in the middle of next year.
Democrats have made plain that the “war on women” playbook will be key to their efforts to unseat McConnell. Last week, Grimes rolled out the endorsement of Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of the pay-equity law signed by Obama, and her campaign issued a memo on women’s issues, noting that Grimes is an “advocate for women” and would be “Kentucky’s first female United States senator.”

While reproductive rights are key concerns of women in general and unmarried women in particular, women candidates are addressing the full range of socio-economic concerns that influence swing voters, including men. “There are lots of reasons women make great candidates,” [Democratic pollster Anna] Greenberg said. “It’s not because they can just talk about abortion.”
Goldmacher notes that “men also can appeal to women voters on traditionally women’s issues,” and adds:

…McAuliffe is the latest example. Anna Greenberg…noted that television ads about abortion, birth-control access or defunding Planned Parenthood aired in nearly every competitive congressional race last cycle, whether the contest featured a Democratic women against a Republican man, or vice versa.

While some pundits have noted that the gender gap is racial in that most white women voters have voted for Republicans in recent elections, the percentage is still significantly less than for white men. And McAuliffe’s stunning margin of victory among unmarried women in a bellwether state also underscores the wisdom of Democrats recruiting more women candidates and male candidates who can address issues of concern to women voters in a positive way.
At present 10 percent of Republican House and Senate members are women, compared to 25 percent of all Democratic members of both houses, according to the congressional record. In 2012, “Of the more than 1700 women serving in state legislatures, roughly 60 percent are members of the Democratic Party,” reports the Center for American Women and Politics.
In the last non-presidential election year, 2010, the gender gap favoring Democratic candidates was “more widespread in this election than in any other,” said Susan J. Carroll, a senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics. “Typically, we see gender gaps in about two-thirds of all statewide races. This year we saw gender gaps in all but a couple of contests,” despite significant Republican gains nationwide. With respect to House races, 49% of women compared with 42% of men voted for Democratic candidates in their districts.

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