Fight for Women Voters Takes Center Stage in Ohio

Fight for Women Voters Takes Center Stage in Ohio

By Erin McPike - March 2, 2012

CINCINNATI -- Along the interstate that connects this southwestern Ohio city to the state's capital, Columbus, and then to Cleveland in the northeast, is a billboard that screams, "Hell is Real," as well as other signs that tout the Ten Commandments.

The billboards serve as reminders that in the country's seventh most populous state, with its seven progressive-to-moderate urban centers sprinkled throughout, there are still vast rural tracts packed with voters who believe deeply in God -- and the social issues that have re-emerged with a vengeance lately in this election cycle. It’s that demographic that could help Rick Santorum to a narrow victory over Mitt Romney on Tuesday in the GOP primary here.

And it is in Ohio -- the marquee state among the 10 holding contests on Super Tuesday and a key swing state in the general election this fall -- where the clash over the women's vote is reaching a flash point.

Nationally, it took Democrats a while to mobilize after Republicans accused the White House of violating religious freedom when the administration announced that religious-affiliated institutions would have to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees as part of the new health care law. But in the past few days, Democrats have come out swinging with their mantra, decrying a "Republican war against women." The latest skirmish in that war occurred when the Senate narrowly defeated a measure Thursday that would have allowed any employers with moral objections to opt out of the contraceptive requirement.

But in Ohio, Democrats wasted no time getting granular on the issue, deploying female officeholders to decry “Mitt Romney's war on women." The reason they are zeroing in on Romney specifically, Democratic strategists explained, is because some think there is lingering confusion among the electorate regarding his stance on abortion, given that he once supported abortion rights. Democrats are working overtime now to define him as pro-life, forcing him to “own” the positions he's taken in the primary -- and allowing him no wiggle room in a general election.

In an interview with the Ohio News Network on Wednesday, Romney misunderstood a question posed to him about the now-defeated amendment on contraception, answering that he opposed the measure. He later explained himself, but the mix-up gave Democrats another opportunity to pounce on one of his biggest vulnerabilities, flip-flopping, to drive their abortion message and to paint him as not credible.

Ohio Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton said in a statement, “Women’s health is a personal and private issue, not a political opportunity for Mitt Romney." She added that if he "finally decides on a consistent position on this issue, I hope he decides to stand on the side of women.”

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, also a Democrat, piled on: “This isn’t Romney’s first flip-flop when it comes to women, and it isn’t the first time he’s ended up on the wrong side. In fact, every time Romney has flip-flopped on a women’s issue, he’s ended up on the wrong side." She explained that “Romney used to be pro-choice" before he became governor of Massachusetts. "By embracing extreme policies like the Blunt Amendment” -- the defeated contraception measure, named after its sponsor, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt -- “Romney is trying to impose his will on women across the country. That would have real-life consequences for millions of women.”

And just like that, the national front-runner is suddenly all over the Ohio media, and in a light that Democrats think will hurt him with female voters here.

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

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