Anticipating Attacks, GOP Campaigns Focus On Courting Women Voters National Republican Party officials encouraged 2014 candidates to launch positive ads targeting women. One for a House candidate from Minnesota touts an annual charity walk he does in pink heels.

Anticipating Attacks, GOP Campaigns Focus On Courting Women Voters

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It's not officially autumn yet, but you could say it's the first day of the fall campaign season. That's because Congress finished up its work yesterday and is now off until November. Lawmakers are free to campaign seven days a week. One group of voters is once again at the center of attention, and that's women. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: At the Democratic Party's annual Women Leadership Forum event, Hillary Clinton delivered a message that could have come straight from the script being used by Democratic candidates all over the country.


HILLARY CLINTON: For too many women, for too many families, they don't just face ceilings on their dreams. It feels to them as though the floor has collapsed beneath their feet. That's not how it's supposed to be in America.

KEITH: She said a national movement is building around issues facing families, things like wages and paid family leave.


CLINTON: This movement won't wait and neither can we. And that's why we're here today. We're also here because the midterms really matter.

KEITH: The midterm elections are less than 50 days away. And if there was a theme in the remarks of the Women's Leadership Forum, it might be, hey, ladies, we are your party. For nearly 35 years, that's been the case. Women are more likely than men to vote Democratic. But Republicans desperately want to change this dynamic. And so this year, Republican congressional candidates went on the air early with ads like this one.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Disturbing reports of sexual assaults in the military. A Marine, Mike Coffman, took action.

BLOCK: Coffman is a Republican congressman from Colorado, considered by some to be the most vulnerable incumbent in the House.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And Coffman bucked his own party to help pass the Violence Against Women Act.

BLOCK: And it's not a coincidence this was the ad his campaign picked to open the season. A lot of Republican candidates went up early with ads painting themselves as strong on so-called women's issues. Andrea Bozek is with the National Republican Congressional committee.

ANDREA BOZEK: We encouraged members to have their first ad be a positive ad geared towards women voters to pre-inoculate themselves from these sorts of attacks that we know are coming their way.

BLOCK: Like a vaccine. In recent past elections, Republican candidates have struggled with how to talk about things like birth control and rape. For almost two years now, Bozek says establishment Republicans have been holding strategy sessions.

BOZEK: The fact that we're up early, we're not waiting for there to be a problem, is strikingly different from 2012.

BLOCK: One of the more creative ads in this vein comes from Republican Stewart Mills, who is running for the House from Minnesota. His wife Heather narrates.


H. MILLS: In the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, my husband puts on pink heels to raise money for victims of domestic violence.

BLOCK: Jon Downs with FP1 Strategies produced the ad.

JON DOWNS: We're anticipating that they're going to run this false "war on women" campaign and our goal is for people to see that and know something about who Stewart is, the real Stewart Mills, and to dismiss those outside attacks.

BLOCK: But in at least one case, the strategy got ahead of the Congressman's voting record.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Our Congressman Steve is advocating for things like Violence Against Women Act.

BLOCK: Except that last year, Florida Representative Steve Southerland joined the majority of House Republicans in voting against the version of the act that became law, opening himself to charges of dishonesty.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: His ad is troubling.

BLOCK: Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter.

STEPHANIE CUTTER: It's not about what ads that you run, it's about what policies that you stand for.

BLOCK: And as evidence of how important the women's vote is, we can expect this fight to keep getting re-litigated for the next two months and the next two years. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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