COLUMBUS — Democrats have redefined the Republicans’ so-called “war on women” beyond health-care issues, but it still remains to be seen whether the tactic will bring out female voters in droves this November.
Polls show Ohio voters, including independents, are narrowly divided and firmly entrenched on the issue of abortion, so the focus on the “war on women” appears to be more about exciting the party’s base to turn out on Nov. 4 than about converting anyone.
“[Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Ed FitzGerald’s choice of running mate [Sharen Neuhardt] signaled that this was going to be an issue in this campaign,” said Paul Beck, professor emeritus in political science at Ohio State University.
“I’m guessing that in [Republican Gov.] John Kasich’s inner sanctum, there have been hopes that more radical Republicans weren’t going to send a ‘personhood’ issue to his desk,” he said. “He’s been able to avoid that kind of problem. Still, I think the problems Republicans faced in 2012, when you had [the rape comments of failed U.S. Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock], showed that people do pay attention to this.”
The narrow defeat of one-term Gov. Ted Strickland by Mr. Kasich in 2010 was blamed to some extent on the underwhelming midterm turnout of the party’s base, particularly in Democrat-rich Cleveland.
“2010 was a nightmare. We’ve watched that movie. We’ve seen the ending, and I never want to see it again,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said recently at what amounted to a Columbus pep rally to get out the female vote.
So Democrats have embraced the “war on women” narrative. The party belatedly got behind an unsuccessful voting-rights push by the African-American community. It’s done its best to keep the specter of Senate Bill 5, the voter-rejected collective bargaining law of 2011, alive with warnings that Republicans would pursue a broader anti-union agenda if re-elected.
Providing ammunition for the “war on women” is legislation passed by Republicans and signed by Mr. Kasich seen as restricting access to birth control and abortion services. That includes a provision the state is using to try to shut down Toledo’s last abortion clinic, Capital Care Network.
“FitzGerald is going to say this guy is a Republican, tied to the Republican legislature, and a Christian conservative who is part and parcel to the kind of positions the party takes nationwide on these issues,” Mr. Beck said.
He said the U.S. Supreme Court may not have done Mr. Kasich and other Republicans on the ballot this year any favors with its ruling allowing closely held corporations to cite religious objections and refuse to provide coverage for contraception for employees under the federal health-care law.
A poll of Ohio voters conducted in May by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University found 49 percent of registered voters believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases while 44 percent said it should be illegal all or most of the time. That’s just within the margin of error of 2.9 points.
The issue is tighter among those whom Democrats are most trying to target. Forty-nine percent of women said they favored keeping abortion legal all or most of the time compared with 45 percent who felt the opposite.
The fight is more partisan than gender-divisive, with 70 percent of Democrats supporting keeping abortion legal all or most of the time compared with just 30 percent of Republicans who do. Sixty-five percent of Republicans say abortion should be illegal all or most of the time compared with 23 percent of Democrats.
Independents, who often decide Ohio elections, are almost evenly divided — 49 percent to 44 percent.
Joan Lawrence is a Republican former state representative from Delaware County and a former director of the Department of Aging under Republican Gov. Bob Taft. She’s also pro-choice and a critic of her party on that issue. But she doesn’t figure she’s a target of the Democrats’ strategy.
“I don’t think [the issue] is helping Republicans with women in the party,” Ms. Lawrence said. “It’s certainly not helping with me. It’s just really sad that the party that believes in limited government has decided that government is appropriate in the case of reproduction.”
But the fact that Mr. Kasich signed the perceived anti-choice provisions into law does not mean she will vote for Mr. FitzGerald.
“John Kasich is not going to lose my vote,” she said. “He’s done a good job.”
Democrat’s definition of the “war” has been extended to economic issues, noting that problems for poor, middle-class, and single-family households disproportionately affect women.
In that sense, Mr. FitzGerald attempts to make the “war on women” an extension of Democrats’ argument that Mr. Kasich and Republicans have waged a war on the middle class with tax cuts largely benefiting wealthier Ohioans, budget cuts to local governments, and the failed restrictions on collective bargaining.
“Roughly half the state is living paycheck to paycheck, but female-headed households are doing worse,” Mr. FitzGerald said. “... It just comes up over and over again. I don’t think that it’s not that health-care issues don’t resonate, because I think they do. It’s that campaigns have to reflect what we’re hearing from people.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.