A pair of polls out this week appears to prove what the Democrats have been saying for weeks: The Republicans have lost the national contraception war. But Republicans are prepared to press on in the states, where they say the polling and the electorate favor them.
New polling shows a majority of Americans are so far unconvinced — they see the fight over access to contraception coverage as a women’s health issue — not a matter of religious liberty. What’s more, they don’t think religious liberty is generally in peril.
A Bloomberg poll released Wednesday found 62 percent of all respondents say the fight over new rules requiring insurance plans to cover contraception “involves health care and access to birth control.” Around 70 percent of women said the same thing.
That’s not great news for the GOP, which has banked on voters agreeing that religious liberty is endangered.
Another new poll out Thursday confirms Republicans are not persuading voters to see things their way. Fifty-six percent of respondents in a Public Religion Research Institute poll “do not believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today.” (Thirty-nine percent do believe it is under threat.)
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Early in the contraception fight, many Republicans said Obama had finally gone too far, giving the GOP the angle of attack it needed to press the case that he was out of touch with average Americans. Some in the GOP warned the Republicans against trying this, but they forged ahead anyway.
The polling suggests the national fight has gone the way Democrats (and the GOP critics) said it would. Republicans on the national level are now on the defensive. The NRSC, which has been pushing back hard against Democratic plans to capitalize on the contraception issue in Senate races, says the issue still plays in their favor on the ground in the states.
Republicans note that national polls don’t reflect how the issue is viewed in some state electorates, which may skew more conservative than a national sample. What’s more, they think think they’ve found a way to prove that the damaging social issues are really nothing more than a Democratic campaign tactic, an idea that’s been fashionable on the right for a while now.
The NRSC plans to make use of that theory. They plan to play up Thursday’s Politico story portraying Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as “scheming” to “portray Republicans as anti-women, anti-Latino and anti-middle class.”
“Republicans can only hope that Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, Tammy Baldwin and Heidi Heitkamp believe that undermining the Constitution, attacking religious liberty and standing with President Obama constitutes a winning political strategy in their states,” said Brian Walsh, NRSC communications director. “We would encourage all of them to travel around their states with party strategist Chuck Schumer and shout this message to the rooftops.”
There’s some evidence to bear this out. In Massachusetts, Republicans think they’ve beaten progressive superstar Elizabeth Warren (D) on an issue that seems tailor-made to her constituents. Sen. Scott Brown (R) co-sponsored the Blunt Amendment, then fired off a TV ad claiming he was following in the footsteps of his predecessor, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D). Democrats seethed, but Brown stuck to his guns. (He also side-stepped the ugliest part of the contraception fight when he called on Rush Limbaugh to apologize to Sandra Fluke early in the life of that controversy.)
The result? Brown is basking in rebounded poll numbers and some fawning press — Politico declared reports Brown has his “mojo back” after trailing Warren early — in part thanks to the contraception battle.
“Even during the contraception debate, Brown appeared to gain respect for his support for a conscience clause exemption, garnering praise from former Boston Democratic Mayor Ray Flynn,” Dave Catanese wrote Thursday.
Some Republicans do acknowledge that the battle over contraception isn’t doing them any favors. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who became a one-woman mascot for the problems the GOP is having with women lately when she publicly regretted her vote in favor of the Blunt Amendment, is reportedly trying to get the rest of her caucus to pay attention.
The New York Times reports Murkowski “sternly warned her colleagues that the party was at risk of being successfully painted as antiwoman — with potentially grievous political consequences in the fall” at a closed door GOP caucus meeting this week.
One GOP strategist pegged the problem to Rick Santorum, who’s become a national poster boy for right-wing views on women’s health.
“You just don’t benefit either at all or as much as you could from people focusing attention on someone like that,” said the strategist, who has worked on national campaigns this cycle. “We have definitely failed to make [the contraception fight] into an advantage, and I think Debbie Downer being the primary guy out there talking about this is part of why.”
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