In doing so, Republicans on Capitol Hill and GOP candidates running in key congressional races are acknowledging the potency of the Democrats' 2014 strategy. The Republicans are belatedly conceding that simply trotting out GOP women in front of the cameras, in a bid to prove that a party that eagerly elects women to high office couldn't possibly be anti-women, has been ineffective in rebutting the line of attack.
The television ad launched this week by the presumptive Republican Senate nominee in Michigan, Terri Lynn Land, is the most blatant example of the GOP's admission of its vulnerable position with female voters, a key voting bloc that pulls the lever in greater percentages than men, who still generally favor conservatives. Land's ad suggests that it's the height of ridiculousness for her male opponent, Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., to paint her as waging a “war on women.”
Strategically, it's a smart move by Land, a former Michigan secretary of state, in her bid to become the first Republican elected to the Senate from the Wolverine State since 1996. But that she had to run this television spot at all is indicative of the Republican Party's predicament.
“Congressman Gary Peters, and his buddies, want you to believe I’m waging a war on women. Really? Think about that for a moment,” Land says, speaking directly to the camera as the ad opens. She closes the spot saying: “I’m Terri Lynn Land, and I approved this message because as a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters.”
In 2012, 53 percent of voters were female, and they voted for President Obama over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by a margin of 55 percent to 44 percent, a significant victory that included a whopping 67 percent to 31 percent margin among single women. Romney won married women 53 percent to 46 percent, and white women 56 percent to 42 percent.
Voter turnout is typically more Republican-friendly in midterm elections, which is likely to lessen the effect of the Democrats' gender-gap advantage. Indeed, polling has shown the GOP positioned to maintain and possibly increase its House majority, and possibly flip control of the Senate. But it was apparent from the aggressive manner in how congressional Republicans responded to the Democrats' push for “equal pay” legislation earlier this month that they are concerned about their ability to appeal to women in November.
Where Republicans have previously dismissed similar Democratic attacks as identity politics and pushed GOP policies as a tonic for improving the lives of all Americans, this time they responded directly, insisting that they too believe that women should be paid the same as men for doing the same work. Here is how two senior House Republican women presented the GOP position during a news conference a few weeks ago, on the federally designated “equal pay day":
“I’m sure you’re aware that today is equal pay day, and as a woman, and as one that has two daughters, I’ve always supported equal pay for equal work — as have all [Republicans]. And what we’re promoting as Republicans are those policies that are going to empower women and everyone,” said House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington.
Added Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., a certified public accountant and former state treasurer: “Democrats want you to believe that Republicans do not support women and their efforts to be successful. ... Please allow me to set the record straight. We strongly support equal pay for equal work and I’m proud that I live in a country where it’s illegal to discriminate in the work place.”
In the Senate, where the majority Democrats pushed the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2014, billed as strengthening equal pay protections in the workplace, Republican women actively attempted to put their stamp on the legislation.
Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also spoke out in an attempt to undercut what the GOP and many political strategists view as nothing more than a Democratic election-year messaging campaign, albeit a potentially successful one.
The Democratic bill was defeated when it failed to overcome a GOP filibuster -- Republicans felt it would encourage frivolous lawsuits. The alternative proposals offered by the female GOP senators were not granted a floor vote.
Senate Republicans downplayed the political considerations behind their own proposals to address paycheck fairness, perhaps revealing the party’s lingering frustration with the issue. Fischer, who said she drafted a proposal to address workplace discrimination, said she did so to solve a problem, not to carry out a political strategy.
“I don't play that game; you know? I don't play that game,” she said. “When I was first elected to the legislature in Nebraska, I had a reporter say to me: ?Are you going to focus on women's issues?' And I said: ?Tell me what a women's issue is, because I'll tell you what it is: It's taxes, it's the economy, it's jobs, it's national defense, it's education, it's health care. It's the issues that every American is concerned about and quit trying to slot us into certain areas.' ”