EMILY's List Targeting GOP Presidential Candidates

EMILY's List Targeting GOP Presidential Candidates
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Republican presidential hopefuls beware: The opposition’s war-on-women clarion call is being sounded anew.

Last year’s focus by Democrats on “women’s issues,” namely access to contraception and abortion, didn’t help their top candidates to victory and actually backfired in some cases. In fact, some Democrats openly criticized the strategy, lamenting a lost opportunity to talk about economic issues.

But even amid big midterm losses, the party won back many of the women voters it lost in 2010. Though the strategy has been re-examined, the argument remains in force, especially with a different electorate in play next year, a wide-open, male-dominated Republican presidential field, and a woman widely expected to head the Democratic ticket.

With the help of EMILY’s List, Democrats are already laying down markers on GOP candidates. This week, the group that supports pro-choice female Democratic candidates launched a new campaign that will document each time a Republican candidate “ignores, insults, or offends” American women. The “Insult & Injury” initiative, first shared with RealClearPolitics, includes digital advertising and graphics that can be shared via social media.

EMILY’s List argues it already has a good amount of material to work with, pointing to Rand Paul’s “shushing” of CNBC host Kelly Evans during a recent interview, and Mike Huckabee’s description of women who curse in the workplace as “trashy.”

But beyond those headlines, the group is focusing on the GOP candidates’ records on a variety of issues, including abortion, contraception access and pay equity. EMILY’s List is targeting Republican presidential candidates’ opposition to Planned Parenthood and/or their efforts to defund it, as well as their opposition to raising the federal minimum wage, which the group argues disproportionately affects women.

“Women and families need leaders who understand the challenges they face and take them seriously. They deserve better than the disrespectful words and harmful actions of the current Republican 2016 field,” said Communications Director Jess McIntosh in a statement.

After their 2014 midterm drubbing, Democrats have argued for framing women’s issues, including reproductive rights, through the lens of economic security. EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock noted last year that economic issues such as equal pay, minimum wage, paid sick leave and the ability to make health decisions drive women to the polls.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is considered a top contender for the GOP nomination, is also atop Democrats’ hit list when it comes to these women-centered issues. EMILY’s List ran ads against Walker on abortion last cycle during his re-election race against Mary Burke. The ads criticized the governor for his opposition to abortion without exceptions for rape and incest and his support for a state measure requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound exam first.

Democrats have been running against Walker for the past three-plus years, with his 2012 recall and his 2014 re-election campaigns taking on national prominence. They haven’t been successful, which will be one of the governor’s main selling points in his expected presidential bid. (Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz got into hot water last year for her harsh rhetoric against Walker, accusing him of giving women “the back of his hand” and “grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back.” The Burke campaign, for which the chairwoman was campaigning at the time, had to distance itself from the comments.)

But that doesn’t mean Democrats are backing away from him as he prepares to launch a new campaign. In addition to focusing on Walker’s abortion views, EMILY’s List assails his record on women’s pay, specifically a bill he signed in 2012 repealing a state pay equity measure. Politifact rated that claim, as articulated by President Obama during the midterm campaign, “mostly true.” (Wisconsin Republicans repealed a law permitting workers to file pay discrimination claims in state court, arguing it led to additional lawsuits that cost businesses money. However, the state’s Fair Employment Act, which prohibits pay discrimination, remains in place.)

Walker isn’t the group’s only target, of course. Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush are also being monitored for their positions on paycheck fairness issues. EMILY’s List points to a Christie’s veto of a state wage transparency bill that would have required state employers make their wage information public. The governor opposed the bill, citing similar provisions in an existing state laws and the potential for burdens on businesses.  (Christie also signed a law requiring employers to issue anti-discrimination notices to their employees.)

The GOP has been public about its efforts to educate candidates about carefully framing women’s issues and avoiding gaffes that could cause them trouble. But the party doesn’t seem concerned about the coming attacks, arguing that such attempts failed in the midterms. Hillary Clinton spotlighted many of the same issues while campaigning for Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, but the Senate hopeful lost to Mitch McConnell, even among women.

“If playing politics with women’s issues was a winning campaign strategy then Democrats wouldn’t be unveiling their ‘autopsy’ in response to midterm losses this week,” says Allison Moore, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “The reality is that Obama-Clinton liberals will promise prosperity but their big-government, tax-and-spend policies actually mean fewer jobs and less opportunities for American families.”  

The war-on-women strategy will take on added meaning next year with the expectation of Clinton as the Democratic nominee. In an interview with the Washington Post, Democratic strategist Chris Lehane noted the impact Clinton’s gender can have in the race, calling it both a sword and a shield.

“It is a sword in that, as a mom and grandmom from middle-class, Midwestern roots, she is uniquely positioned to talk with voters [about] being on the side of America’s families,” Lehane told the Post. “It is a shield to deflect the predictable attacks from the opposition about the need for change in 2016.”

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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