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A female edge for Senate Democrats

at 02:30 PM ET, 04/02/2012

A series of recent polls have Democrats arguing that Republicans’ policies on women’s health are damaging the GOP in key Senate races.

Women voted about equally Democratic and Republican in 2010 House races, an unusually even split that helped the GOP take back that chamber. Now, Democrats argue that they have regained and even increased their edge among women and it will help them retain control of the Senate.

In Ohio, a recent Quinnipiac survey gives Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) a ten point lead over state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) overall but a 17-point lead with women. In Florida, Quinnipiac gives Sen. Bill Nelson (D) an eight point lead overall and a 14 point lead with women.
Donna Haynes, of Mechanicsville, Va., gets emotional as she talks about taking Saturday's women's rights rally outside the State Capitol in Richmond, Va., Saturday, March 3, 2012. (Eva Russo - AP)

In Virginia, former governor Tim Kaine (D) has a nine-point lead over former senator George Allen (R) in recent Quinnipiac polling — a six-point shift from December — although the race is too close to call.

A Connecticut matchup between former Rep. Chris Shays (R) and Rep. Chris Murphy (D) is also tied up, but Murphy leads by 13 points with women.

“[T]hese out of touch politicians are starting to see the political impact this Republican war on women is having in the polls,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter.

At the presidential level, there’s a far more pronounced gender gap than there was in 2008.

In March of 2008, both President Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton led Sen. John McCain by 14 points with women, according to Pew polling. Obama leads former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney by 20 points and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum by 26.

Obama ultimately won female voters by 13 points, according to exit polls. In 2004 the gap was much smaller; Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won women by only three points.

“The current margins are clearly unacceptable and make it extremely difficult to deliver a pathway for electoral success,” said Linda DiVall, a Republican pollster and consultant. “I would be shocked if the GOP and our candidates did not treat this seriously. We shall see.”

Democrats also have female Senate candidates in many key states — Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Rep. Shelley Berkley in Nevada, former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Rep. Tammy Baldwin in Massachusetts, and Rep. Mazie Hirono in Hawaii.

By contrast, Republicans only have one two female recruits: former former governor Linda Lingle and Rep. Heather Wilson, in New Mexico.

Of course, Democrats have far more open seats to defend this cycle. Six Democratic senators are retiring, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I). Only three Republican senators are, and the GOP has far fewer vulnerable incumbents.

Republicans point to polls showing Republican candidates leading in multiple competitive states — including Massachusetts.

Warren (D) led Sen. Scott Brown (R) by four points with women in a recent Western New England University poll. But Brown led Warren by 21 points with men and by eight points overall.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said “it appears that it’s the Democrats who have a growing gender gap problem – with male voters.”

But for now, at least, the gender gap numbers are on Democrats’ side. A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds women in a dozen battleground states identify as Democrats by a 41 percent to 24 percent split; men identify as Republicans by only a 27 to 25 percent split. President Obama leads former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney by 18 points in that swing state polling.

 
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