As everyone tries to figure out an exceedingly close election, the focus on women — unmarried women in some stories, blue-collar women in others, unmarried blue-collar women maybe — intensifies. Could they play the decisive role? Especially if they live in Ohio.
Back in 2006, I was writing my book The Case for Hillary Clinton, and I needed to offer a scenario as to how she could win the 2008 election. Hillary and her people were reluctant to talk to me, even though we were friends. They didn’t want even the appearance that they were focusing on anything other than her reelection as U.S. senator from New York. Fair enough. But who could possibly help me with this? Who had the political acumen, the experience, the encyclopedic knowledge of presidential elections to chart her course to 270 for me?
You know who.
The answer was Ohio. More specifically, women in Ohio. All Hillary had to do was win the states John Kerry had won and then do about two points better among women in Ohio, and she would win the election.
So here we are, back to women in Ohio: women who voted for Barack Obama but are disappointed at the hard economic times, women who don’t want to see the clock turned back for women, women with real power.
How do you get to them? By focusing on education and health care and Lilly Ledbetter and jobs plans and the like. Certainly that’s what Obama’s been doing. And, as Mitt Romney put it in his now almost forgotten 47 percent speech (what did happen to that?), by focusing not on convincing them that they were wrong to vote for Obama in the first place, but on the fact that they are right to be disappointed with him now and on not giving him four more years.
You also get to them by pulling this election back to the fundamental issue of who controls their bodies. Abortion has rarely decided elections. Except for a very small percentage of voters at either extreme (most of whom would vote for the candidate closer to their extreme even without the abortion issue), most people vote the economy, not social issues.
But when abortion becomes an issue of integrity, and when the margin is as close as it is right now, everything matters.
Last week’s big news is from Indiana, where Republican Richard E. Mourdock distinguished himself from his two opponents in the Indiana Senate race (both of whom oppose abortion except in cases of rape and incest) by saying, “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Mourdock, a Tea Party favorite who defeated the more moderate (but still conservative and very respected) Richard Lugar in an ugly Republican primary, is locked in a tight race. Just the day before, Mourdock’s campaign released an ad in which none other than Romney looks right into the camera and endorses Mourdock. While Romney’s campaign says it disagrees with Mourdock on abortion for rape victims, it is not asking that the ad be pulled.
If you have not seen it, you must watch the video of Romney’s 1994 debate with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., on the topic of abortion. Romney was challenging Kennedy for the Senate. Some people called him “Multiple Choice Mitt” when it came to abortion, but he staunchly fought that label. He was pro-choice — since 1970 no less, since before Roe v. Wade.
“I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it. And I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice.” That was Mitt Romney.
But there is more:
This is also Mitt Romney: “Many, many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that.”
Except in endorsing a man who believes that God somehow intended for a rape victim to give birth. Running on a platform that prohibits abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Sending teenage girls back to the back alleys where a “dear, close family relative” died from an illegal abortion. What will a man do or say to get elected to the Massachusetts Senate, or to get elected president of the United States?
— Bestselling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.