California Senate Race Tops EMILY's List's Radar

California Senate Race Tops EMILY's List's Radar

By Erin McPike - September 15, 2010

The abortion rights political group EMILY's List is launching another phase of its campaign today against former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin's political maneuvers with a new effort in the California Senate race.

In August, EMILY's List announced the "Sarah Doesn't Speak For Me" campaign in an attempt to contrast the records of Palin's endorsed GOP candidates with those of their Democratic opponents on the basis of women's issues. As independent voters appear to be leaving the Democratic Party in droves in poll after poll this year, Democratic groups are drilling down on specific demographic groups like middle-aged women and using these kinds of gender-based appeals to bring them back.

EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock said in an interview, "undecided voters are really looking at this election." She conceded that independent voters including women have drifted from the Democrats, but that polling shows that when reminded of certain issues, "they come back." And she said in part for that reason, the Golden State's Senate race between Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer and Republican Carly Fiorina is among the organization's most important this year.

"Boxer is very high up on the list [of candidates to protect] - as in really high up," Schriock said. She explained that beyond Boxer's long tenure and support for abortion rights, the race is so important because she's running against a conservative woman who received Palin's endorsement.

"We need more women to run for office, but what do these women stand for?" Schriock said. "It isn't just about women versus women," she said, although she indicated that in the California race, those dynamics do play a role given what they'd prefer ideal female candidates to project in the future - Boxer's issue matrix rather than Fiorina's.

Tied to that is Palin's support for Fiorina. "Palin's gotten so much media coverage for the candidates she's endorsed, we realized we needed to break through it, to have a kind of check on all of it," Schriock said, noting that some of the contrasts were "getting lost."

And for that reason, Schriock said EMILY's List will spend significant funds in the California race. Schriock is spending time in the state this week to promote a series of TV and online advertisements and direct mail pieces the organization plans to run in the state.

Schriock said Washington's Senate race, with pro-choice Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, the only woman in the Senate Democratic leadership, is also important to her organization. But they are focused specifically on California now with the "Sarah Doesn't Speak For Me" effort because Boxer's opponent has been endorsed by Palin; Murray's opponent, Dino Rossi, does not have Palin's backing. Schriock said the organization is supporting Robin Carnahan's Senate race against Republican Rep. Roy Blunt in Missouri and Elaine Marshall's campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Richard Burr in North Carolina, but she stressed the importance of incumbent protection in the other two cases.

Even in this political climate where jobs and the economy far outweigh all other issues, the combination of gender and abortion rights is playing a factor in about half a dozen Senate races.

After the conservative insurgent Christine O'Donnell upset Republican Rep. Mike Castle in Tuesday's primary in the open Delaware Senate race, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said, "Christine O'Donnell's win, combined with the successes of Carly Fiorina and Sharron Angle [in Nevada], continues building momentum for 2010 to be remembered as the ‘Year of the Pro-life Woman. Christine O'Donnell's come-from-behind victory is evidence that voters across America are hungry for conservative pro-life candidates."

Indeed, SBA List is strongly promoting exactly the kind of message and candidates EMILY's List is trying to prevent. In her statement Tuesday, Dannenfelser said, "As the late pro-life champion Rep. Henry Hyde once told me, it is absolutely vital that we have women in Congress standing up for the truth that abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women. But with no pro-life women currently in the Senate, Barbara Boxer goes unchallenged telling our pro-life men they can't speak for women. That will change in the Senate this November when authentic pro-life women leaders like Christine O'Donnell are elected. Her victory is part of a new pro-life women's movement making its way to the U.S. Senate."

The issue also took on added significance in the New Hampshire Republican Senate primary, where SBA List and National Right to Life supported former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, who was criticized late in the campaign for settling a state court case over parental notification laws with state payments of $300,000 to Planned Parenthood.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

Latest On Twitter