The Washington Post

Birth control becoming major issue in Senate races

Much of the political commentary about the birth control fight has focused on what it means for the presidential election among women and Catholic swing voters, but there’s another, lesser-noticed area where it could have a big impact: The Senate races.

Contraception has popped up in various ways in a number of close Senate contests, and Dems are planning to push GOP candidates on whether they support the Blunt amendment, which would allow insurers and employers to deny coverage of health services they find morally objectionable.

Tellingly, some Dems have begun calling this the “Blunt-Brown Amendment,” hoping to hang it around the neck of Scott Brown, who’s facing a stiff challenge from Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, where this has become a major issue.

In a statement emailed my way, the DSCC argued that this fight could have an impact in multiple Senate races:

Two weeks ago, national Republican interests groups and Republican candidates like Scott Brown and George Allen giddily attacked Democrats for supporting measures that protect access to contraception and other forms of health care for women. Now, these divisive Republican attacks against women are boomeranging, forcing Republican Senate candidates like Brown, Allen, Dennis Rehberg, Dean Heller and Josh Mandel to run for the hills, rather than explain why they are championing measures like the Blunt-Brown Amendment that would block access to basic health care services for women instead of measures that create jobs.

“The coordinated GOP attack on women and basic health care access shows independent voters that the Republican party is far more interested in advancing the divisive culture wars than working to create jobs and fix the economy,” said Matt Canter, spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In addition to the Massachusetts Senate race, Dems are hoping to make an issue of this in Virginia, where GOP candidate George Allen has embraced the “personhood” amendment, in Ohio, where GOP candidate Josh Mandel has supported the “heartbeat” bill, which bans abortions once the heartbeat can be detected, and in Nevada, where Senator Dean Heller has taken heat for voting to defund Planned Parenthood.

Republicans insist the issue will play in their favor in some states; NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh has dared Dems to campaign on it this fall in North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Montana. And Republicans still hope they can win the argument if its framed their way and advances the subtext that Dems want to expand government’s reach into matters of faith.

But a new National Journal poll finds that Americans lean towards Obama’s position, 49-40, and a plurality opposes an amendment like the one Republicans are supporting, 44-40. It also found big majorities opposed to defunding Planned Parenthood. Other polls have found big swings of unmarried women — a key Dem demographic — towards Obama. And there are no indications yet that the public will see these issues through the GOP’s chosen frame.


UPDATE: Upping the stakes, Harry Reid announced today that he’s expecting to hold a Senate vote on the Blunt amendment on Thursday.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.


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