In 2012, Democrats’ constant refrain that the Republican party was in the midst of a “war on women” left the GOP — all the way up to presidential nominee Mitt Romney — exasperated at what they called a gross mischaracterization. Now Republicans are embracing the term as a way of reminding voters of Democratic men who have cheated, sexted, and harassed.
In e-mails, press releases and tweets, the Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee are highlighting a “war on women” waged by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (harassment), New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner (sexting), and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer (prostitutes).
Mentioned less often but still on the list: New York State Assemblyman Vito Lopez (harassment) and Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen (mistakenly thinking he had a daughter, calling a reporter “very attractive”) among others.
“The best tools we have as Republicans to recruit women candidates this cycle are three Democrats named Bob Filner, Eliot Spitzer, and Anthony Weiner,” said NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.
Democrats cry foul, arguing that their “war on women” was based in policy, not personal failings. Moreover, they say, Republicans have cheaters, johns, and alleged harassers in their own ranks: South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, Sen. David Vitter, former presidential candidate Herman Cain. “This shows Republicans are still completely ignorant about their unpopular policies with regard to women,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter (Republicans argue that pushback from Democrats is a sign that they don’t take these scandals seriously enough.)
So is turnabout fair play for Republicans when it comes to the “war on women”? President Obama enjoyed a significant advantage with female voters last fall, but the same was true in 2008 — prior to the anti-woman narrative pushed by his party. The “war on women” may have had more impact in Senate races; both Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) beat Republican opponents in 2012 after Democrats highlighted the GOP candidates’ comments about rape.
But Weiner is likely to lose his primary. Democrats in San Diego are trying to push Filner out. Spitzer might win his race, but he’ll be comptroller of New York City — not exactly a hugely high profile gig. No one on this list is a top Republican target in 2014. Cohen, for example, is up for reelection but his Memphis-based seat is safely Democratic and his only threat is in a primary.
Republicans’ hope that all of this will reflect badly on Democrats nationally and not just in those districts or states where the male elected official has been behaving badly. There’s no polling on whether these scandals have had any impact on views of the Democratic Party and women, however.
Democrats have long enjoyed a substantial edge in when it comes to perceptions of which side is more attuned to issues women prioritize. In a 2012 Washington Post-ABC News poll, Americans said the Democratic Party cared more than the GOP about issues important to women by a 55 percent to 30 percent margin. Even one in four Republicans said so. In early 2000, in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the gap was tilted even more in Democrats’ favor, 58 percent to 24 percent. Bill Clinton himself remains an incredibly popular Democratic campaigner.
The whole GOP campaign may well be designed more for media consumption than for massive impact, however. As they disparage Democrats, Republicans are trying to bring some attention to Project GROW, an NRCC-led effort to recruit more female candidates.
If Republicans make inroads with female voters next fall, it will have more to do with that effort than this war.
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