In Colorado, where President Obama’s approval rating is low and the Senate race is tight, Democratic incumbent Mark Udall largely bowed out of the spotlight of the president’s visit Wednesday.
But as Obama made the rounds speaking about the economy and raising money for Democratic congressional candidates, he also spoke about the women’s issues that could be key to Udall’s electoral success.
At a morning outdoor rally in Denver’s Cheesman Park, Obama emphasized just how much is on the line in the midterms.
“So far this year, Republicans have blocked or voted down every serious idea to strengthen the middle class,” he said. “They said no to raising the minimum wage. They said no to fair pay legislation so women are getting the same pay as men for doing the same work.”
President Obama was introduced at the rally by Alex Dooley, who works at an upholstery company in Colorado. She’d written to Obama to thank him for urging employers to boost their workers’ pay in his State of the Union address.
“After his speech, my pay was increased to $10.10 an hour,” she said, eliciting the audience’s applause. “Right. I thought that was pretty cool, too.”
Obama frequently notes that women make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers in this country, and political consultant Craig Hughes said women also carry extra weight at the state’s ballot box.
“Winning that women’s vote and winning it decisively is without question the key to winning here in Colorado,” he said.
Four years ago, when Hughes managed Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet’s re-election campaign, a double-digit advantage with women helped Bennet win a squeaker during a tough year for Democrats.
This year, Udall is hoping to repeat that play, and Hughes noted he may have gotten a boost from last week’s Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.
“The issue of choice and a woman’s ability to make her own medical decisions is not new to Colorado and it is something that has been without question a very important voting issue,” he said.
Udall argues the Supreme Court got it wrong when it ruled that Hobby Lobby and other companies with religious objections don’t have to include contraceptive coverage in their workplace health policies.
He wrote an op-ed for the Denver Post saying birth control should not be your boss’s business — and he underscored that point in an interview with Denver’s Fox 31 TV station.
“Women ought to make decisions based on their beliefs, not the beliefs of their employers. It’s that simple,” he said.
Two years ago, Obama’s re-election campaign also highlighted birth control in Colorado, and the president carried the state with 60 percent of the unmarried women’s vote.
In 2014, though, polls show most Coloradans disapprove of the president’s job performance, and Republicans see an opening to pick up a Senate seat here if Udall’s challenger, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, can avoid alienating female voters.
Gardner has backed away from his earlier endorsement of “personhood” proposals here in Colorado, which could restrict some forms of birth control. And when Fox 31 asked Gardner about the Hobby Lobby decision, he qualified his support.
“I think for people who want to stand up for religious freedom and want to stand up for First Amendment rights, I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “But I also think that’s why we’ve come forward with solutions on the issue of birth control.”
Gardner wrote his own op-ed for the Denver Post, arguing birth control pills should be available without a prescription. He noted that over-the-counter drugs are often cheaper than insurance company copays, though under Obamacare, most insurance policies are required to cover birth control with no copay.
For now at least, Obamacare’s birth control provisions seem to be a bigger political asset than the president who pushed for them. Even as he champions the health care law’s protections, Udall opted not to appear alongside Obama at his public speech today in Colorado.