Last night several high-profile champions of the Democrats’ “war on women” meme lost their races, suggesting this particular appeal to voters may have peaked in 2012 and will see diminishing returns in the future.
Wendy Davis was selected by Democrats to run for Governor of Texas on the strength of her 13 hour filibuster of a law restricting abortion to 20 weeks and adding stringent regulations on abortions clinics. Though the filibuster was ultimately a futile effort, Davis was treated like a hero by the national abortion groups and, more importantly, by the media. This led to millions in funding coming from outside the state aimed at turning Texas blue.
But it must have been clear to Davis and her supporters almost immediately that running on abortion rights was not going to be a winning issue (not in Texas anyway). When she officially announced her candidacy for Governor last October, NARAL and Planned Parenthood were thrilled, but Davis herself never mentioned the issue that had made her a star.
Things got worse for Davis during the campaign. In February of this year she claimed in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that there was probably a version of a 20-week abortion ban (the very thing she’d filibustered) which she could have accepted. The NY Times claimed this wasn’t new and that it showed she had a nuanced position on the issue. But within another day or two Davis had reversed herself and claimed there was no version of the ban she could accept.
Last night the inevitable happened. Davis lost the race that nearly everyone had long assumed she would lose. However the scale of the loss may have been worse than many expected. Her opponent Greg Abbott not only won the state by 20 points (59-39) but, according to CNN exit polls, Davis lost even among women by 5 points.
Another big loser last night was Mark Udall in Colorado. Udall ran a nearly single-issue campaign focused on birth control and abortion rights. He was the “war on women” candidate and an incumbent. Like Wendy Davis, Udall received strong backing from Planned Parenthood and like Wendy Davis he lost his race. Unlike Davis, Udall did win among women but as the Washington Examiner points out his margin seems to have slipped. In 2008 Udall won women by 15 percent. Last night, according to exit polls, the gap was down to 9 percent.
The final loss for the “war on women” last night was the person who got the ball rolling. Sandra Fluke became the face of the “war on women” in 2012 and was later given a high profile speaking slot during the Democratic convention. The LA Weekly reports that in her race against Ben Allen for a seat in the CA State Senate, “women’s issues took a back seat to issues like jobs, the environment and education.” And Fluke not only lost, she lost badly by roughly the same margin as Wendy Davis in Texas, 61-39.
Democrats need to take the “war on women” back to the drawing board, especially if they hope to use it again to elect Hillary in 2016. Then again it’s possible that we reached peak “war on women” in 2012 and that voters are just not going to respond to this appeal with the same level of enthusiasm going forward.