John King, CNN’s chief political correspondent, has noted that it’s not just the female vote that is important but a subset within that key demographic that will be all-important in November’s contest between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Appearing on “Anderson Cooper 360,” King explained that the key to a Republican victory in 2012 is the suburban woman voter. He showed, using various color-coded screens, the vast difference in how suburban women voted in the last two national elections, where President George W. Bush won with overwhelming support among women in swing state suburbs in 2004 and Sen. Barack Obama won in 2008 with varying degrees of support. King suggested that the key wasn’t just being able to obtain the most votes among female voters, it was to get the most votes among suburban women in the key swing areas.
King’s analysis points to a problem for the Republican Party, which keeps running up against women’s issues. For example, Democrats have been attempting to paint the GOP as a party that is not only hindering female equality but are doing their utmost to curtail the advances women have made socially and legally over the past century. The so-called “war on women” became the message immediately following conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s hours-long tirade against Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke’s testimony before Congress wherein he likened her to a “slut” and “prostitute” for advocating safe sex, contraception, and the need for government programs like Planned Parenthood. Although the storm died down around that controversy, another arose over the weekend when Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Claire McCaskill, made the comment supportive of his anti-abortion beliefs that in cases of “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies were equipped to “shut that whole thing down.”
And though there were many Republicans who decried his words and some that called for him to drop out of the senate race, it brought to the fore again the argument that the Republican Party was intent on electing politicians that could possibly alter the reproductive rights gained over the years by and for women.
Akin’s words have become an embarrassment and a political liability for the GOP. With regard to the women’s vote, it could also have an impact on the national election as well. Just two days after he uttered his thoughts on abortion with emphasis on the rape scenario, the GOP adopted into its party platform a strict anti-abortion provision, one that mirrored Akin’s absolutist anti-abortion comments. It has been noted that the wording of the provision, which will become part of the Republican Party’s official platform once it is adopted at the Republican National Convention in Tampa at the end of August, leaves out extenuating circumstances like rape, incest, and life-threatening conditions for the mother. For many women and for most of the people of the United States, such an extreme view curtails the reproductive rights and, in some cases, the individual freedom of choice over a mother’s own life. Up to 80 percent of Americans find that there are at least some exceptions to be made in the abortion argument.
Akin, however, is not one of those 80 percent. Therefore, he has become a target of Democrats and liberals and pro-choice groups.
But how will that play out with the women’s vote? Back in April, Washington Post/ABC News released a poll in early April showing a 19-point gender gap between Obama and Romney. Of course, this was following the Sandra Fluke controversy, which began on Feb. 29 and continued to make waves as reports came in from around the country of Republican-led legislatures proposing, voting on, and adopting (or not) measures restricting Planned Parenthood programs, abortion, and the uses of contraception — the “war on women.” Those numbers diminished over time, but an early August Reuters/Ipsos poll revealed that Obama still retained a slightly less than 9 percent advantage over Romney with women voters.
But just what percentage of those are the all-important suburban women voters, presupposing King’s analysis is accurate? And just what affect will Akin have on not just the women vote but those undecided voters? Given that the controversy over his “legitimate rape” comment has focused a lot of attention on Republican lawmakers and illuminated that the GOP’s official stance on abortion (illegal, no exceptions), will that also have an effect on the female vote, overall and in the key demographic of the swing state suburb?
The GOP are attempting to implement damage control. But Akin is resisting, saying he’ll stay in the race, and the longer he stays in the headlines, the more difficult it will be for the GOP to distance themselves from him, his extreme views, and the fact that the Republican Party platform mirrors them.