Karl Rove’s super PAC recently presented a poll to top Republican aides telling them that their party is viewed by women as “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion,” and “stuck in the past.” They didn’t need a poll to tell them that. They should have gotten this message from the 2012 election — not to mention their own widely publicized rebranding efforts last year. But instead of changing the policies that repel women voters across the political spectrum, many Senate candidates have gone into “stealth mode” to avoid talking publicly about their positions on crucial women’s health issues. It’s a tactic that women see right through -- and it won’t fix the GOP's fundamental problems with women.
"Everywhere you look on the Senate battleground map, there are stealth candidates fudging answers to the questions they can’t dodge outright."'
After witnessing the Senate campaigns of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock burst into flames after they blurted out their true beliefs in 2012, today's Senate candidates were instructed to follow a new strategy: Keep your mouths shut.
Everywhere you look on the Senate battleground map, there are stealth candidates fudging answers to the questions they can’t dodge outright, even if it makes them look as ridiculous as Scott Brown did when he hid in a diner restroom to avoid talking about the Hobby Lobby birth control decision. It’s not like he was unfamiliar with this topic. As a senator, Brown previously voted for the Blunt amendment to allow employers to deny women birth control coverage in their health insurance. But it’s dangerous ground as a candidate these days, and Scott Brown knows it.
Then there is former Alaska attorney general and Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, who seems happy enough to have anti-women’s health positions as long as he doesn’t have to talk about them. His website states that “life begins at conception” and as attorney general he approved a ballot measure to put anti-science views in the Alaska state constitution. There was a time when he seemed loud and proud about these policies, but now he needs women’s votes, and suddenly he can’t find his voice. When asked whether he supports the federal Life at Conception Act, he gave the lawyerly dodge that he hadn’t read the bill -- a crafty attempt to create doubt about what had once been his very clearly stated position.
Another egregious example comes from Colorado, where Rep. Cory Gardner has never previously hesitated to impose his own political beliefs on the women of Colorado. Gardner has long supported “personhood” measures that are intended to outlaw abortion, and which could interfere with decisions about birth control as well.
Many consider the "personhood" movement radical, which is why it should surprise no one that Rep. Gardner, now a Senate candidate, has shifted his position -- even though he’s still a co-sponsor of the federal version of this bill, the Life at Conception Act.
"This year’s crop of candidates acts like they deserve gold stars for learning to keep their opinions to themselves."'
This “duck and cover” strategy explains why many Senate candidates have gone silent about the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling, which allows businesses that claim a religious objection to discriminate against female employees in health care. “There is no need to draw attention to an issue that is so down in the weeds,” said one GOP strategist.
If left unchecked by political reporters, this conspiracy of silence rewards politicians who run from important issues (though hiding in a bathroom didn't do Brown any favors). Birth control in particular is an incredibly important economic issue, especially for the 48.5 million American women who are eligible to get birth control without a copay. For those doing the math, women saved $483 million on birth control over the previous year and picked up 24 million more prescriptions. That kind of money pays a lot of grocery bills and fills a lot of gas tanks. That's the kind of good news politicians should embrace, not hide from.
At least Akin was willing to say what he believed. This year’s crop of candidates acts like they deserve gold stars for learning to keep their opinions to themselves about issues like abortion, on which 70% of the country disagrees with them, according to a recent poll. To paraphrase a former Republican icon, these stealth candidates might be able to fool some of the women some of the time, but the Republican Party won’t be able to rehabilitate itself with women until they actually change their positions that offend most of the women all of the time.
Dawn Laguens is the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.