February 28, 2014 — Democrats are using controversial remarks by their Republican rivals as a campaign strategy to draw women's votes and boost campaign fundraising, the New York Times reports.
Republican candidates in recent months have made several such remarks, the Times reports.
For example, Virginia state Sen. Steve Martin (R) recently referred to a pregnant woman as a "host" in a Facebook message; Brad Dayspring, a communications director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee in an email referred to Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), a senatorial candidate from Kentucky, as an "empty dress"; and Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative website Red State called Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), a gubernatorial candidate, "Abortion Barbie."
Democrats first adopted the approach of publicizing sexist remarks as a campaign and fundraising tool in the 2012 elections, after a study found that direct responses to such comments bolstered candidates' appeal to voters and detrimentally affected opponents.
For example, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) raised about $1.4 million in the week after her opponent, then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), used the phrase "legitimate rape." Meanwhile, tracking and publicizing conservatives' controversial remarks helped EMILY's List raise a record $37 million in 2012 and simultaneously boost its membership from 400,000 to more than two million, with another one million people signing up in 2013.
This election cycle, EMILY's List has raised $25 million, in part through an online petition called "Tell the G.O.P.: Pregnant Women Are Not 'Hosts'" after Martin's comment was publicized. Similarly, Battleground Texas quadrupled its Facebook following after posting sexist remarks made by musician Ted Nugent, who has campaigned for Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.
According to the Times, the strategy could be particularly critical in the 2014 election because female voters do not typically turn out for midterm elections as much as they do for presidential elections. The strategy also could come into play in the 2016 presidential race, especially if former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton runs, the Times reports.
Meanwhile, Republicans argue that promoting the comments is part of a larger Democratic strategy to divert attention from other issues by portraying the GOP as antagonistic toward female voters.
Katie Packer Gage, deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012 and media outreach consultant to current GOP candidates, said, "I'm more than just a set of reproductive organs and I'd like someone to talk to me about how they'll help my pocketbook and keep my health care plan that I like, and Democrats don't have a good response to that." She added, "If I were them, I'd want to turn it into 'Abortion Barbie,' too" (Chozick, New York Times, 2/27).