In Colorado’s Tight Senate Contest, A Race To Court Women Voters

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Originally published on September 23, 2014 10:09 am

Colorado's U.S. Senate race is a considered by many to be a tossup. Incumbent Senator Mark Udall and Republican Congressman Cory Gardner are trying to win over as many key voting blocs as they can before Election Day – and that includes women.

In the previous close Senate contest between appointed Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and Republican Ken Buck, women played a critical role. During the waning days of that 2010 race, Bennet focused his attention on the female vote – and narrowly won. With women making up 51.4 percent of all registered voters in Colorado this election, it's a scenario Democrats are hoping to repeat.

"When it comes to the women and the question is, who is going to be there not some of the time, who's going to be there not when it's convenient, who's going to be there not when the race is looking tight and women are looking feisty, but who is going to be there all of the time. And the answer is Mark Udall," said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) to applause at a Mark Udall rally in Jefferson County.

Warren was in the swing county to mobilize volunteers who are making calls and knocking on doors for the incumbent.

"There are people who believe, Republicans who believe, Cory Gardner who believes, women are fine, they're just fine, they're worth 77 cents on the dollar, they can make many of their health care decisions," said Warren.

It's a point that Democrats and progressive independent groups have spent the summer trying to drive home – blasting Gardner over women's issues in fliers, in speeches and on TV.

"Last year Gardner sponsored a federal personhood bill that could outlaw some of the most effective and reliable forms of contraception," one ad intones. "And Gardner's new plan could cost women, $600 a year in our of pocket medical costs."

The message from and NARAL Pro Choice America PAC, resonated with Denver's Sally Ogden, a longtime Democrat who attended the Udall rally.

"Well, the message is out there, it's just a question of getting people out there and voting," said Ogden. "I'm just hoping young women realize why they have the options they have right now because I think some of them take it for granted."

Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR
Sally Ogden from Denver attended a Mark Udall rally in Jefferson County, where Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke.

Social issues aside – Ogden said she cares most about the economy going into the midterm election. The same goes for lifelong Republican Kathy Holderith. She spends her evenings making calls to voters from a Republican Party field office in Lakewood.

Holderith said Democrats are spending too much time focusing on abortion, contraception and reproductive rights.

"I don't feel you should be a one-issue person," she said. "I think that is downing women, I don't think you’re giving women credit for being intelligent. If you don't have a job? If you don't have good healthcare? I think women should be intelligent to make decisions for themselves, that's how I've always been."

Republicans and their outside groups are trying to pivot away from abortion and Cory Gardner's stance on personhood to focus on other issues such as health care and energy.

In one campaign ad from the Gardner Senate Campaign, he makes a pitch for "next generation energy."

"What's a Republican, like me doing, at a wind farm?" the candidate asks as the ad begins. "Supporting the next generation, that's what. I'm Cory Gardner. I co-wrote the law to launch our state's green energy industry. Now I'm working across party lines to encourage the natural gas our economy needs. Growth and opportunity from the earth for Colorado, that's what's right for our future."

Recent college grad Brian Petrich from Evergreen – who is helping with the Gardner campaign – said these broader economic issues are driving his vote.

"Just because I think that's something that our elected officials can truly effect change with where social issues, it's not really our government's place," Petrich said.

With female voters holding a three-point registration advantage over their male counterparts, analysts say focusing on women's issues is a good strategic move.

"Democrats will continue to strategically attempt to make salient women's issues and in turn bring women to the polls to vote for them and kind of take advantage of the gender gap that exists," said Colorado State University Political Science Professor Kyle Saunders.

Recent polls have shown Senator Udall leading Gardner among women, although in a poll by Quinnipiac University the candidates were virtually tied. While the GOP tries to broaden its stance, candidates such as Cory Gardner can't ignore the topic of reproductive rights altogether.

"I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter around the clock without a prescription, cheaper and easier for you," Gardner said in one political advert.

The conservative group Americans for Shared Prosperity will be airing national ads targeted to women, while Democrats say they're trying to highlight policy differences on a range of topics.

One thing is certain, with so much at stake the ad barrage will continue.

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