In one of the stranger negative campaign ads for next Tuesday’s US midterm elections, a young man scrambles from under a duvet in a bedside locker for contraception during an intimate encounter.
“Guys, guys, guys – if Cory Gardner gets his way,” the narrator says, “you better stock up on your condoms.”
Showing the couple frustrated, sitting on the bed, the ad declares that the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado – one of 36 Senate seats in play in this election – wants to ban birth control.
Produced by a Colorado pro-choice group, the ad is inaccurate. The US congressman has in fact come out in support of over-the-counter sales of birth control pills during the campaign.
He has also reversed his support for “personhood”, the belief that life legally begins at conception, which critics say will outlaw certain contraceptives.
The ad plays on his older, anti-women policies that Democratic rival, Senator Mark Udall, is using against him in the so-called “war on women” attacks by Democrats on Republicans in this campaign.
Women’s rights, along with President Obama’s unpopularity, Ebola and the rise of Islamic State, are the most discussed issues in these elections.
Republicans need to pick up six seats to regain control of the Senate in an election that looks like the party might improve on the 2010 contest when it added 63 seats in the House of Representatives.
Republicans are heavily favoured with Democrats struggling to hold Senate seats in Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, Alaska and Louisiana. Republicans are battling to retain Kansas and Georgia.
The Democratic strategy of attacking on women’s issues is not making the same gains as in past elections. Republicans have been more moderate in their positions and careful in their comments.
There has been no repeat of the controversy of the 2012 campaign when Democrats made political hay on remarks about rape by Republican congressman Todd Akin (“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”) and GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdoch (“Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that’s something God intended to happen”).
“The fact that there have been no major gaffes by Republicans nationwide to allow the Democrats to exploit the kind of ‘war on women’ rhetoric that they did in 2012 is certainly not helping the Democrats mobilise women,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University.
Women, a key voting block for Democrats, have been more likely than men to support the party’s candidates in presidential races since 1980 and Congressional elections since 1986. But a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats, regardless of gender, this year has them campaigning more on women’s rights to try to get out the female vote.