It has been nearly a month since the Supreme Court handed down its Hobby Lobby decision, yet the issue has remained at the top of the political news now for weeks -- a key facet in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
To explain that, look no further than the research by the Voter Participation Center into the voting trends for single women in midterm elections. Though single women make up a growing share of the electorate — nearly 4.2 million became eligible to cast ballots since 2008 — they turn out in far lower numbers in midterm elections than presidential contests.
The dropoff in their share of the electorate between 2008 and 2010 was significant. In 2010, some 22 million fewer unmarried women voted than in 2008, according to a study by the Voter Participation Center and Lake Research Partners; 10 million fewer married women voted.
Facing the very real possibility of losing the Senate, Democratic operatives are doing everything they can to reverse that trend between now and November. That is why voters in Colorado, Montana and Michigan have seen a flurry of ads focused on abortion and contraceptive coverage from the campaigns and outside groups like the Senate Majority PAC, which is focused on maintaining Democrats’ control of the Senate.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates are trying to keep their Republican opponents on defense about the Hobby Lobby decision, which gave some for-profit corporations the right to claim a religious exemption to the new healthcare law’s requirement of contraception coverage.
In some cases Republicans have aggressively countered the attacks on their records on women’s issues, producing their own female-focused ads.
In Colorado, for example, two of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s first three ads centered on his opponent’s opposition to abortion and past support for a Colorado initiative that would have changed the state’s constitution to protect a person’s rights from the point of conception. Gardner countered with his own ad explaining why he changed his mind on the Colorado personhood initiative (he was not aware, he said, that the legislation could have restricted women’s access to birth control).
In Montana, U.S. Sen. John Walsh aired an ad featuring an activist who said she was raped at 14 and goes on to slam Walsh’s rival, Republican Steve Daines, for supporting legislation that would define life as beginning at conception. In the same week, Daines aired his own ad in which a female supporter highlighted what she described as a courageous vote for the Violence Against Women Act at a time when others Republicans opposed it.
This week, Democrats kept contraceptive coverage and the Hobby Lobby decision in the news with a vote on a Udall bill that would restore the legal guarantee that women could get contraceptive coverage through their employer-based insurance plans, regardless of the Hobby Lobby decision. Democrats did not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster and allow consideration of the bill this week. But many of the vulnerable Democrats who co-sponsored the bill with Udall dispatched press releases decrying the vote.
Expect more parliamentary maneuvers along those lines this fall to keep the issue alive through November.
Though polls are fluid, Democrats are already showing a strong advantage among women in some key states at this point in the cycle. A new NBC/Marist poll this week shows that Udall is leading Gardner by 12 points among women. In Michigan, Rep. Gary Peters is maintaining a 13-point lead among women over his female opponent, Republican Terri Lynn Land. In New Hampshire, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen continues to hold a strong lead among women over her Republican rival, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is spending $60 million on their Bannock Street Project, aimed at raising turnout among women, Latino and African American voters to what might be seen in a presidential election year.
Though the polls look good for Democrats among women, they are still facing huge hurdles in contested states across the country. The question is whether they will be able to get enough women to the polls this fall to maintain their Senate majority.