August 5, 2014 — In an effort to make their 2014 midterm strategy less politically divisive and more focused on individual issues, Democrats are eschewing the "war on women" rhetoric they used effectively against Republican candidates during the 2012 election, National Journal reports.
According to National Journal, Democrats used the phrase in the 2012 election to target Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and appeal to women in swing states, which helped propel President Obama to re-election.
However, Democrats are stepping back from the language in their current election strategies, even though many of the issues that were important in 2012 -- including women's reproductive rights and the wage gap, among others -- still are potent, particularly in states like Colorado and Kentucky that have competitive Senate races.
Pollsters Weigh In
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said Democrats have found that saying "'Republicans are waging a war on women' actually doesn't test very well" among female voters, who find the terminology "divisive" and "political." Lake said it is more effective to use language that casts Republican policies as "too extreme" or "out of touch with women's lives."
Similarly, Mark Mellman, another Democratic pollster, said that the party is "on much stronger ground when we talk about the specifics than when we talk about the category." He added, "And so when we talk about Republicans who want to make abortion illegal, Republicans who want to ban equal pay for equal work ... the specific policy issues matter. That's where the power is."
For example, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is campaigning against a challenge from Republican Rep. Cory Gardner (Colo.) by focusing in large part on Gardner's prior support for a "personhood" amendment. Meanwhile, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes -- seeking to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- is highlighting McConnell's votes against equal pay measures and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
Meanwhile, Republicans have adopted the "war on women" rhetoric to criticize Democrats and attempt to turn the phrase's negative connotations back on the Democratic Party, National Journal reports.
For example, Terri Lynn Land, a Senate candidate in Michigan, said in an ad that Democrats want voters to believe she is "waging a war on women," while Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO, launched a super PAC to "shame Democrats who play the 'war on women' game."
Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said Democrats "may be dressing it up in kinder, gentler terms, but it still ignores the fact that the reason the majority of women disapprove of the president's performance is because they don't see the economy doing well."
However, Marcy Stech, press secretary for EMILY's List, said, "Republicans would much rather talk about the rhetoric surrounding women's issues than the issues themselves because they don't really have an agenda to run on" (Schultheis, National Journal, 7/31).