The Republican Party And Women : Political Junkie This week's Political Junkie column: Will the rhetoric and controversies focusing on contraception affect women's choices in November? Plus: a look ahead to the key House contests in the Illinois primary. And remembering Peter Bergman of Firesign Theater.
NPR logo The Republican Party And Women

The Republican Party And Women

It's not that the rhetoric coming out of the Republican presidential campaign is suddenly going to make women around the country start voting Democratic. Women, for the most part, do prefer Democratic candidates, and have in presidential races at least since 1992. Four years ago, women preferred Barack Obama over John McCain by some 13 percentage points (the gap was 41 points among single women).

But as the conversation has gone from abortion to contraception — which is, um, virgin territory in presidential campaigns — anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that it is pushing female voters even further away from the GOP. Starting off with the seemingly political decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation (since reversed) to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, through the attacks on birth control and culminating with Rush Limbaugh's personal attack on Sandra Fluke ("slut!" "prostitute!"), the party that once cherished individual liberties and freedom is being portrayed as rigid and insensitive.

Some in the GOP fear a sharp decrease in the number of women voting for Republican candidates this year. Ken Rudin collection hide caption

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Some in the GOP fear a sharp decrease in the number of women voting for Republican candidates this year.

Ken Rudin collection

And in the process it may have damaged the national ticket aspirations of Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia thought to be a rising star in the GOP. Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly were pushing legislation that would have required a woman to have an ultrasound probe inserted into her vagina prior to undergoing an abortion, a procedure pushed by anti-abortion legislators in an effort to make a woman think twice before terminating her pregnancy. The bill was met with widespread ridicule, and it forced McDonnell to pull it and demand changes. And that in turn led to widespread denunciation of the governor by religious conservatives, who accused McDonnell of selling out.

As for Limbaugh, many Republicans insist that he is an entertainer, not a party spokesman, and thus they should not be tarred when he goes off on someone in his broadcasts. But that's a cop-out, writes Steve Kornacki in Salon:

Limbaugh's show is almost entirely about politics, and the themes he stresses invariably echo and influence the themes that Republican politicians across the country emphasize. And Republicans themselves have spent the past two decades promoting the image of Limbaugh as their leader. ...

This is what makes the context of Limbaugh's attack on Fluke so damaging for Republicans. It's not just that he said something awful about a 30-year-old woman who hadn't said anything about him. It's that he did so by way of amplifying the GOP's message on contraception. Republicans had been taking pains to claim their objections to the Obama administration's mandate that women be able to obtain birth coverage through their health insurance plans were all about protecting religious liberty — that they weren't on some puritanical crusade. With his unparalleled platform, Limbaugh has made a mockery of that idea, and he's put a particularly nasty face on the GOP's posturing. As GOP consultant Alex Castellanos told the Daily Beast, "we have just handed [Democrats] the cudgel one more time, playing into the stereotype that Republicans are anti-women."

Conservatives dismiss the hubbub over Limbaugh as manufactured outrage by the left in order to make political hay. The right-wing Hot Air blog had this analysis of the left:

They are genuinely offended — not by the rhetoric, though, but by conservative opposition to abortion and support for prioritizing religious conscience above contraception coverage. That's what makes Rush "anti-woman"; the "slut" name-calling is, supposedly, a window onto that deeper animus. Because Maher and Olbermann and Taibbi are, ahem, "pro-woman" on policy, they can be as personally nasty as they want and it's not a window onto anything. The quintessential example of this is of course Ted Kennedy, whose career stands for the proposition that you can allegedly assault women and even leave a woman to die and be reelected for eternity so long as you vote the right way.

Back to polling. Liz Halloran, my NPR colleague, wrote that the irony in all this is that Republicans were making genuine inroads with women, that female voters preferred GOP candidates in 2010, "the Republicans' best overall national result among women in 18 years." But now the GOP, "who so recently saw an opportunity to close the gender gap, may now be watching it widen."

Lincoln Logs. Another "all eyes are on" primary Tuesday; this week it's Illinois and the continuing saga of Mitt Romney vs. Rick Santorum and those two other guys. But there are also some key House primaries that day as well; Illinois is one of the few states where Democrats had complete control in redrawing the district lines. Ones to watch:

2nd CD: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) was long heralded as a rising star in Chicago politics, with City Hall in the post-Daley era as a likely next stop. But it wasn't until Barack Obama was elected president that people realized his goal was the Senate. Now that the ethics committee has been trying to find out if Jackson violated any House rules in his zeal to get then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to appoint him to Obama's seat, his star has been tarnished. It even brought him a legitimate Democratic Party challenger in Debbie Halvorson, who served one term in the House before getting clobbered by now-Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) in 2010. Halvorson has not been shy about talking about Jackson's ethical questions, and her campaign has similarly not been reticent in talking about his extra-marital affair that dominated headlines awhile back. But in the view of the party poobahs, Jackson is still too valuable to lose. And thus Democrats like Obama and Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have all joined forces behind J3. Halvorson, who is white in a majority-black district, is trailing in both polling and money.

3rd CD: Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R), who ousted Melissa Bean (D) in a major upset in what was the 8th District, now finds himself in this majority Dem district, courtesy the Democrats who obliterated his original CD. His opponent in November will either be Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs in Iraq as the result of a rocket-propelled grenade that hit her helicopter and who as the Democratic nominee in the 6th CD six years ago lost to Peter Roskam (R), or Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Democratic nominee for state Comptroller in 2010.

10th CD: This seat has been a historic GOP seat for ages; think John Edward Porter and Mark Steven Kirk (now senator). Bob Dold doesn't have three names but he is nonetheless the latest Republican to hold the seat, which has been made more Democratic through redistricting. Top Dems in Tuesday's primary are thought to be Brad Schneider and Ilya Sheyman, a former activist with MoveOn.

11th CD: Bill Foster, the Democrat who lost his House seat to Randy Hultgren (R) in a nearby district in 2010, is seeking a comeback here, where he hopes to take on Rep. Judy Biggert (R) in November.

12th CD: Rep. Jerry Costello (D), first elected in 1988 following the death of longtime Democratic incumbent Melvin Price, is retiring. Top candidates: ex-local schools superintendent Brad Harriman (D) and 2010 GOP lt. gov. nominee Jason Plummer.

Two House incumbents have gone down to defeat in the primaries thus far. Another one is guaranteed to lose in Illinois on Tuesday. Ken Rudin collection hide caption

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16th CD: Another example of Democratic line drawing is here in the Republican primary between two incumbents. Freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who knocked off Debbie Halvorson (D) in 2010, found himself without a district and decided to challenge Rep. Don Manzullo, who was first elected in 1992 and is the senior Republican in the delegation. Similar in some ways to the Romney vs. Santorum battle, both Republicans are arguing that the other's conservative bona fides are suspect. Kinzinger has corraled some impressive endorsements, such as from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, which has led Manzullo's supporters to call Kinzinger a creature of the establishment. The battle is bitter and expensive, and while the primary winner is assured of victory in November, it will result in the removal of one GOP incumbent.

17th CD: Still another district where a Republican freshman has been redrawn for the purpose of electing a Democrat. Rep. Bobby Schilling (R), who upset Phil Hare (D) in 2010, may be an underdog in the fall to former East Moline Councilmember Cheri Bustos (D).

The 2012 story so far:

Mitt Romney (20 contests won): New Hampshire (1/10), Florida (1/31), Nevada (2/4), Maine (2/4-11), Arizona (2/28), Michigan (2/28), Washington (3/3), Alaska (3/6), Idaho (3/6), Massachusetts (3/6), Ohio (3/6), Vermont (3/6), Virginia (3/6), Wyoming (3/6-10), Guam (3/10), Northern Mariana Islands (3/10), Virgin Islands (3/10), American Samoa (3/13), Hawaii (3/13), Puerto Rico (3/18) = 521 delegates.

Rick Santorum (9): Iowa (1/3), Minnesota (2/7), Colorado (2/7), North Dakota (3/6), Oklahoma (3/6), Tennessee (3/6), Kansas (3/10), Alabama (3/13), Mississippi (3/13) = 253 delegates.

Newt Gingrich (2): South Carolina (1/31), Georgia (3/6) = 136 delegates.

Ron Paul (0) = 50 delegates.

Delegate total as of March 18 according to Associated Press. A total of 1,144 delegates are needed to win the nomination.

Senate race ratings update. Since my Jan. 17 attempt at rating this year's Senate races, two changes need to be made.

Maine — The decision by three-term Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) to call it quits stunned everyone in the state. But while the announcement was first greeted by many as a likely Dem pickup, the candidacy of former Gov. Angus King (I) scared off all leading Democratic hopefuls. The seat goes from Republican Favored to Expected GOP Loss/Independent Pickup.

New Jersey — At the very least, the candidacy of GOP state Sen. Joe Kyrillos makes it clear that Gov. Chris Christie (R) is going to attempt to make life difficult for Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez. It still is a long way to go for Kyrillos, a strong ally of the governor, to win the seat. But I'm moving it from Safe Democratic to Democrat Favored.

Are some Super PACs more super than others? I always get in trouble when I voice my opinion on something, and the subject of money in politics does manage to arouse a lot of emotion. But I'm wondering what you thought of this comment from the New York Times' Matt Bai, who penned it in the March 11 edition of the Sunday magazine. It kind of mirrors my thoughts too, and I know, by expressing that, I'm asking for trouble. But here it is. Let me know what you think:

MATT BAI: I get why Democrats are appalled by the millions of dollars being poured into Republican campaigns by a handful of super PAC donors. But back in 2004, they didn't seem at all troubled when a couple of billionaires — George Soros and Peter Lewis — threw more than $50 million into their own independent groups to try to unseat George W. Bush. The laws keep changing, but one rule of human nature stays the same: Money is corrupting only when it's helping a cause you don't believe in.

Oklahoma is not OK with him. This hit me as odd, and I don't think I realized it until well after the fact. But, in basically running unopposed for renomination, President Obama received just 57 percent of the vote in the Oklahoma Democratic primary on March 6. Some 18 percent went to Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist and founder of Operation Rescue who, under party rules, will now be entitled to at least one delegate. According to an A.P. account of the results, Terry beat Obama in 12 counties in Oklahoma, mostly in the west, and Jim Rogers of Midwest City beat Obama in three counties.

This, of course, will not endanger the odds of Obama being selected by the delegates in Charlotte this summer. And no one ever thought that the president was doing well in the Sooner State, let alone in position to carry it in November. But 57 percent among his fellow Democrats? The last Democratic incumbent to basically have a free run to renomination was Bill Clinton in 1996. According to Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, his worst showing was (gulp) in his home state of Arkansas. But he still managed 75.8 percent of the vote (with 13.4 percent going to Uncommitted and 6.6 percent to Lyndon LaRouche).

If they can't make it there. New York's long awaited congressional redistricting map is out, and it's not good for some incumbents of both parties. That in itself is not much of a surprise; with the state slated to lose two seats because of population changes, and with Democrats and Republicans both having a say on who is protected and who ain't, we knew there would be some unhappy faces in the delegation.

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But the biggest changes affected freshman Bob Turner (R) and veteran Gary Ackerman (D). Turner has been in office only since September, when he won the seat (centered in Queens) vacated by Anthony Weiner. Turner was the first Republican to win that district since the 1920s. With his district obliterated, he announced he will instead challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) for her seat. Turner leaving the House was not a surprise but Ackerman's decision to retire was; he was telling allies very recently that he planned to seek another term for the seat he's held since winning a special election in 1983. (For the record, he says his retirement is not in response to the new lines.) His district, stretching from northeast Queens into Nassau County, is thought to be reliably Democratic.

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. No room for readers' questions this week, but here are two comments:

I enjoy the Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation but during the introductory medley of famous and infamous political quotes, female politicians are represented by only one woman and one word — and that word is "lipstick." I realize the political world is not gender balanced, particularly if you're choosing from presidential and vice presidential candidates. However, Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton and Michele Bachmann must have an interesting quote or two among them. I hope you'll consider adding at least one more female voice. — Louise Piantedosi, Medway, Mass.

And then there was this one, which I'm betting/hoping was written tongue in cheek:

For almost five years now I have listened to TOTN on Wednesdays, and the It's All Politics podcast. I have suffered countless bad puns. I have endured Mara Liasson's pinch-hitting when you have even the faintest of sniffles. And NPR's relentless left wing bias. I don't know why I've subjected myself to this abuse.

I suppose what has driven me to such extremes is the allure of a No Prize Tee-Shirt. I'm like Gollum and this Tee is the ring. My precious.

I listen every Wednesday to your evil questions. I prep myself studying the news of the week, looking for anything that might be the prompt for your devious puzzler. I have Google ready when you announce it, and I never EVER figure out the answer. Years of failure have trailed is left in the wake of my Wednesday TOTN addiction. I suspect this is because I'm predominantly handicapped by a strong libertarian strain in my thinking. I did vote for Ron Paul in '08, after all.

But alas, after years of communist NPR propaganda, mainly from the mouth of Ken Rudin, I've been pushed into becoming a right of center Obama democrat. This enlightened shift I assume helped me solve the ScuttleButton puzzle last week.

And then you got lazy. Your carrot became a dreadful Wednesday stick, whereby you and Neil Conan nearly bored me to death without so much as a new ScuttleButton question, nor an announced winner. Which should have been me. AND you short-changed Ron Paul in your coverage just because he came in fourth in a 4-way race between 4 idiots. Shame, Ken. Shame.

There is clearly a conspiracy at NPR, specifically in the Political Junkie's office, and if next Wednesday you don't announce me as the ScuttleButton winner I will report you to James O'Keefe. Hell, I'll hold the boom mike for him when he storms your offices. — Milo Mowery, ScuttleButton winner in all but name only, Tacoma, Wash.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Last week's show focused on Santorum's victories in Mississippi and Alabama, renewed pressure on Gingrich to quit, and Obama's declining poll numbers. We also spoke to Curtis Ellis of the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a group that is funding primary challengers to House incumbents of both parties. Click here to listen.

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Monday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. It's not too late to enter the most recent contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt!

Previous winner: Gin Peck of Phelps, N.Y.

Two buttons from Firesign Theater lore that may be impossible to describe or explain in this format. Ken Rudin collection hide caption

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Ken Rudin collection

Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner-in-crime, Ron Elving, and me. Click here to listen.

The podcast ended with a tribute to the late Peter Bergman, one of the founders of Firesign Theater. If you don't know Firesign Theater, there's really no coherent way I could describe the kind of comedy they performed back in the late 1960s and early '70s. But Ron and I have long been influenced by their work, back when we were attending classes at Morse Science High, and often during the podcasts we will break out into Nick Danger or Principal Poop or Ralph Spoilsport or Porgy or Mudhead ... often leaving our producers puzzled and concerned. As I'm sure I just left you.

Want more? (A scary thought ...) Click here to watch an interview on C-Span's Washington Journal with the Examiner's Susan Ferrechio and me from Sunday, March 18 ... and click here to listen to an interview conducted by Ann Fisher of WOSU in Columbus, Ohio on March 8.


March 20 — Illinois presidential and congressional primaries.

March 24 — Louisiana primary.

April 3 — Primaries in D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin. Congressional primaries in Maryland.

April 24 — Primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Congressional primaries in Pennsylvania.

May 8 — Presidential and congressional primaries in Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia.

May 15 — Presidential and congressional primaries in Idaho, Nebraska and Oregon.

May 22 — Presidential and congressional primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky.

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

Muskie button
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This day in campaign history: Maine Gov. Edmund Muskie, a Democrat, announces he will challenge GOP Sen. Frederick Payne (March 19, 1958). Since the establishment of direct election of senators, the state has never sent a Democrat to the Senate. But Muskie will win a landslide victory in the September general election, and go on to re-elections in 1964, 1970 and 1976. He will be his party's vice presidential nominee in 1968 but fail in his bid for the presidential nomination in 1972. Muskie will resign from the Senate in 1980 to become Secretary of State in the Cabinet of President Jimmy Carter.

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