Obama has moved aggressively to take advantage of the opening Republicans have provided. He personally called Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student who had been attacked by conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh over her advocacy for contraceptive coverage, and expressed his support.
And the White House announced in recent days that the president will give the commencement address this year at Barnard College, an all-female school. (The previously scheduled speaker bumped off the stage by Obama was Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor in the history of the New York Times.)
The attention to women’s issues has reassured Obama’s feminist allies who had been concerned with what they had seen as a lack of attention to female voters, who had been drifting away from the Democratic fold.
“No question that if you are Obama, you have to do better with women in order to win,” said Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, who estimates that the president will need at least 53 percent of female voters to get reelected.
Feminist groups and Democratic candidates across the country are taking the opportunity to raise money with the “war on women” theme. The mother of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) sent out a fundraising letter blasting “Rush Limbaugh and his out-of-control nasty mouth.” Tennis legend Billie Jean King has signed on to the House Democrats’ fundraising efforts, asking donors to “help us send Republicans a clear, unmistakable, and powerful message.”
And late last month, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee produced a video titled “The GOP’s War on Women” that highlighted the recent controversy and promoted the campaigns of six incumbent female senators and five other women running for Senate seats.
In state legislatures, some female lawmakers are reacting vocally to the national debate, as well as state measures on abortion and contraceptive coverage. New York Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, a Republican, said the efforts “are taking women back decades” and that she would vote for Obama if she were voting now, because “there are no other candidates out there.”
In Virginia, state Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) drew national attention when she offered an amendment requiring men seeking medication for erectile dysfunction to receive a rectal exam and cardiac stress test. She was responding to a bill requiring women to undergo invasive ultrasounds before they get abortions. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) signed a weakened version of the bill into law Thursday.
“I think most women assumed that these were settled issues probably three decades ago and are aghast that it’s been reopened,” Howell said. “Almost half my e-mails . . . are from men. And they’re speaking for their wives, their girlfriends, their daughters, and are very upset by what’s happening. Many of them say they have been Republicans but they’re not going to vote Republican in the future.”