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Toni Panetta Headshot

Memo to David Axelrod From Women in Swing States

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You've seen the same polls that I have: Rasmussen shows a generic Republican candidate up 48%-41% over President Obama, while Gingrich has surged in Florida, Montana and elsewhere. You also know that closing that gap requires convincing key voting demographics that supported then-Senator Obama in 2008 to not only show up in 2012, but to cast their ballots for him for president. Among the most influential group: women in swing states.

Research from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner commissioned by NARAL Pro-Choice America found that 40 percent of women in swing states who voted for Obama in 2008 but who currently aren't planning to support him in 2012 reported they would "never vote for anyone running for president who opposes a woman's right to have a legal abortion, no matter how much I agree with them on other issues." This, despite the expectation the economy will dominate the presidential race. Perhaps most revealing, 46% of swing state women expressed very serious doubts about Republican candidates who want to outlaw abortion in almost all cases, even in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's health is in danger; when coupled with those who expressed serious doubts, the figure jumps to 79%.

All of which opens the door to "personhood" as the defining issue that could lock up Obama's re-election. Despite losing its bid to grant rights to fertilized eggs in Mississippi by conferring legal personhood from the moment of fertilization by a 58%-42% margin, Personhood USA has announced plans to bring the same issue before voters in Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada and California. Of these six states, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio and Nevada -- and their 65 electoral votes -- are up for grabs in the presidential race.

Much as it did for Colorado's junior senator, Michael Bennet, during his re-election campaign during the 2010 Republican wave, personhood could push pro-choice defector women and undecideds solidly into Obama's camp. Women voters in Colorado preferred pro-choice Bennet, who staunchly opposed the 2010 personhood measure on the state's ballot, by a 56%-39% margin over personhood-endorsing Ken Buck. A lesson for 2012? Between anticipated wins in solid Democratic states and the toss-ups, the electoral math adds up to more than 300 votes for a pro-choice, anti-personhood Obama over a generic Republican who supports banning all abortion and the most common forms of birth control, as well as severely restricting in-vitro fertilization, by granting legal rights from the moment of fertilization.

One would think the match-up is solidly in Obama's favor with GOP front-runners all decidedly anti-choice: Romney and Gingrich have publicly supported laws declaring fertilized eggs to be legal persons. Perry, long a champion of Texas' pro-life movement, declared a Texas bill to restrict abortion to be an emergency, fast-tracking it ahead of legislation that would have addressed wildfires and the state's jobs crisis and fiscal disaster. Bachmann (and Paul) co-sponsored H.R.358 to let women die rather than require hospitals to provide an abortion if a woman's life is at risk. And along with Rick Santorum, all but Romney have signed the Susan B. Anthony List's pro-life pledge. (And that's just some of the latest headline-grabbing news; NARAL Pro-Choice America has full anti-choice dossiers on each GOP contender.)

Think again: President Obama's willingness to heed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other anti-birth control forces' plea to exempt religious employers from providing insurance with no-co-pay birth control could negate the personhood path to re-election. Since the Affordable Care Act rolled back reproductive rights by opening the door for states to ban private insurance coverage for abortion (15 states now do, up from five before ACA) and by adding the onerous requirement that Americans write two checks for their health insurance premiums if they want coverage for abortion, women are scrutinizing any new women-specific policy decisions made by this Administration.

There's large potential to prioritize the recognition of women's health care needs with the Department of Health & Human Services' recommendation that under ACA, all new insurance plans cover birth control without co-pays, co-insurance, or other out-of-pocket costs. Exempt from this requirement are non-profit organizations whose purpose is "the inculcation of religious values" and that primarily employ and serve people who share their religious tenets -- such as places of worship. However, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its anti-birth control allies are lobbying heavily to broaden the exemption for any religiously affiliated employer -- despite virulent opposition from other leaders of faith communities, including Catholics for Choice. If the Bishops are successful, the move would leave millions of college professors, health care professionals, social workers, janitors and other employees of colleges, hospitals, and charities without coverage that they have come to expect and depend on. They would lose the benefits of the provision of the Affordable Care Act that could minimize cost as a barrier to using birth control. This, despite research showing not only that upwards of 15% of birth control users do so to manage medical conditions other than pregnancy prevention, but also that 98% of sexually active Catholic women use birth control methods opposed by the Church.

Allowing discrimination against the women who work for these institutions because of their employer's religious beliefs could cast profound doubts on any electoral path to victory that the swing-state personhood initiatives could provide. The Catholic Bishops and their anti-birth control followers were probably not among those eager to see President Obama have a second term, but birth control-using women? Their vote is could be a slam dunk.

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Obama Romney
332 206
Obama leading
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Popular Vote
33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
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Holdover
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Democrats* Republicans
Current Senate 53 47
Seats gained or lost +2 -2
New Total 55 45
* Includes two independent senators expected to caucus with the Democrats: Angus King (Maine) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
All 435 seats are up for election. 218 are needed for a majority.
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