Emily's List Candidates Staying Mum on Abortion Rights

Image: Emily's List Candidates Staying Mum on Abortion Rights From left: Sen. Kay Hagan, Michelle Nunn, Alison Lundergan Grimes and Natalie Tennant

Monday, 14 Jul 2014 09:30 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The pro-choice women's group Emily's List is backing four Southern candidates in this year's elections, but none of them are talking much about abortion rights, typically an issue used to attract female voters.

Emily's List, which raises campaign funds for Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights, is the largest single contributor to the Senate campaigns of North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, Michelle Nunn of Georgia, Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky, and Natalie Tennant of West Virginia, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Part of the issue is that the women's competitive races are in states that lean conservative, said Lane Erickson Hatalsky, social policy director at the left-leaning think tank Third Way.

"Abortion is the easy go-to, but the Democratic base turnout strategy that works in blue or purple states like Colorado doesn't work in places like Kentucky and Georgia," said Hatalsky.

The change is coming at a time when Democrats are pinning their hopes on a growing bloc of unmarried women voters, according to The New York Times.

Currently, there are more than 56 million unmarried women over age 18 in the United States, and single women often vote a Democratic ticket. Democrats often campaign on claims that Republicans are on the wrong side  of such issues as the minimum wage, college tuition aid, abortion, and birth control.

In fact, none of Emily's List statewide candidates in the South are referring to abortion in their advertising, including Wendy Davis, who is running for governor of Texas, reports The Wall Street Journal. Davis does not refer to abortion in her television ads or in the issues section of her website, although her filibuster over anti-abortion legislation brought her into the national spotlight.

Instead of abortion, the candidates are talking about other issues, such as the economy and education. A TV ad that ran last month as part of a $3 million campaign for Hagan, for example, showed a teacher who alludes to being pregnant, but instead talks about school funding cuts backed by Hagan's Republican competitor, state House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Meanwhile, Tillis' call for further regulation of abortion clinics, to outlaw most abortions, and to cut Planned Parenthood funding aren't mentioned in the ad.

"These Democrats are using these issues to fill their campaign coffers … then remain fairly quiet on the very issues Emily's List stands for back home," said Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

So far this election cycle, Emily's List reports spending $9.4 million, including $4.3 million to seven women in Southern states, including the four Senate candidates, Davis, and two House candidates, Gwen Graham in northern Florida and Alma Adams of North Carolina.

Even though Emily's List supports only pro-choice candidates, that does not mean the candidates are required to campaign on the issue.

"Abortion is not the most important issue to voters these days in these Southern states," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, adviser for Grimes' campaign to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

Abortion is not often supported in the South, where 41 percent of Southerners say they are pro-choice, and 49 percent refer to themselves as pro-life, according to a recent Gallup poll. Nationwide, Americans were evenly divided in the survey on the issue.

But in some individual states, there is much less approval for abortion. Just 30 percent of Kentucky's registered voters said abortion should be legal, and 67 percent called for a ban, according to a May NBC News/Marist Poll.

Even though McConnell co-sponsors a House bill calling for a 20-week abortion ban, Grimes has not addressed it, nor has Tennant, whose Republican opponent Rep. Shelley Moore Capito voted for the ban.

But Emily's List spokeswoman Marcy Stech said her group doesn't only focus on abortion rights, but all women's issues, including legislation for equal pay and a higher minimum wage.

"Our candidates are champions for women and families, and that's part of a whole host of issues," said Stech.

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