Just when you thought the Democrats might ditch the “War on Women” theme it returns with a vengeance in of all places, Colorado. Colorado has been ground zero for Democrats playing the social issues card for three straight elections. In 2010 it helped the party hold a vulnerable Senate seat and in 2012 it arguably won Obama the state. But using the card this election seemed dead due to 2014.
Senator Mark Udall’s relentless focus on abortion in the 2014 campaign likely led to his defeat. While it allowed Udall to carry more women than Obama did in 2012 it also destroyed Udall’s standing among conservative Hispanics and male voters. As a result, Congressman Corey Gardner, who backed away from his past stalwartly social conservative positions was able to paint Udall as the extremist and out of touch with voters concerns over the economy.
Democrats are not done with the theme though. Senator Michael Bennett, who survived in 2010 largely by attacking his opponent’s social conservatism has signaled he will do the same thing again. What’s interesting is that none of his strongest potential opponents have the baggage a Ken Buck (2010) and Corey Gardner do. Republicans are actively trying to recruit Congressman Mike Coffman or his wife, the state’s Attorney General, to run against Bennett. Coffman is socially conservative but since redistricting made his seat more vulnerable has focused largely on economic issues. Likewise, his wife does not have a track record of socially conservative votes on contentious issues. Her run for Attorney General focused more on technical, legal issues. More interestingly, Bennett’s likeliest second tier opponent has irked the pro-life movement.
Last week Republican State Senator Ellen Roberts indicated she was thinking about running for against Bennett. But unlike the GOP’s 2010 and 2014 Senate nominees she does not have a decidedly pro-life record. According to National Journal, Roberts was named the “Most pro-abortion Republican in the legislature” by Colorado Right to Life. It makes sense for her to be socially moderate in her only slightly right-leaning legislative district but it has caused her to face two primary challenges during her short tenure.
Democrats main claim against her is a recent vote she took in support of a bill allowing murder charges for the death of unborn children. The bill specifically exempted women getting abortions and abortion providers. Still, the bill only passed the GOP controlled Senate through an 18-17 party line vote and House Democrats (33-32 control) rejected the measure. Democrats argue the bill shows she is clearly out of step with Colorado voters on the issue.
More immediately for Roberts if she puts her hat in the ring it likely won’t help her woo social conservatives in a primary. Her backing of past abortion related efforts will not be forgotten so soon by the party base. Roberts has tried to portray her candidacy as Corey Gardner light, offering the state a new kind of Republican candidate that steps back from social issues. Unfortunately for her she does not have Gardner’s pro-life background and unlike Gardner will face a competitive primary. Regardless of the nominee the GOP chooses social issues are sure to pop up during the campaign. One can expect Hillary to attack her GOP nominee forcefully over the issue ensuring the theme will bleed down into the state’s Senate race.
There is no doubt that Colorado voters have become more socially liberal on abortion and gay marriage. But as this has occurred and Democrats have benefited through stronger returns with women the party has lost strength with males over economic issues. Gardner exploited this in 2014. Expect both the GOP Presidential and Senate nominees to focus like a laser on the economy and try to downplay the Democrats “War on Women” rerun.