Political Advertising Enlisted in War for Women

Campaigns Fighting to Persuade the Woman Vote -- or Suppress It

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The "war on women" might be the creation of a political advertising consultant. But make no mistake: There will be a war for women this electoral season as both parties shoot it out over a key constituency.

An "enormous portion" of advertising will be "devoted to persuading women or repressing the women's vote," said Elizabeth Wilner, senior VP of Kantar Media Ad Intelligence.

The war over women has already begun as Democrats hope to continue the success the party has had in recent elections casting Republicans as insensitive about women's issues.

Congressional Democrats have added equal pay, the minimum wage and other pocketbook issues of interest to women to their standard fare of reproductive choice and access to contraception that were very effective in recent elections.

And even as President Barack Obama and other Democrats are pummeled by GOP attacks on the Affordable Care Act, they're attempting a bit of jujitsu by reminding women that Obamacare offers free mammograms and other no-cost preventive care and allows children to stay on their parent's health policies until they are 26 years old.

"In most households the person in charge of health care is a woman," Ms. Kantar said.

While the votes of soccer moms are still important, keeping an edge among single women is at a premium for Democrats. Earlier this year, at an annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. hosted a panel called "Unmarried Women -- They Will Elect You If You Get It Right."

The GOP, meanwhile, is pushing back on Democratic allegations of a Republican-led "war on women."

Michigan Republican Terri Lynn Land, a candidate for the Senate, has come to national attention for a TV ad that mocks her Democratic opponent.

"Congressman Gary Peters and his buddies want you to think I'm waging a war on women," she says in the ad. "Really? Think about that for a moment." She pauses to shake her head. "As a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters."

Ms. Land's ad was in response to one run by the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC that said "with Land, insurance companies will be able to deny you coverage when you get sick. Women's access to preventive health care would be cut, while their costs would increase."

Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby is running a 60-second ad in Oregon that focuses on her career as a as a pediatric neurosurgeon.

In the ad, a mother weeps as she says doctors had advised her to consider terminating her pregnancy because her unborn daughter had spinal problems. Ms. Wehby, the mother says, congratulated her mother on her pregnancy and operated on her newborn daughter, who is now a healthy 12-year-old.

On the other side of the aisle, Wendy Davis, a Democrat running for governor in Texas, is running You Tube videos ads that feature her daughter telling Ms. Davis' life story as a poor single, mother who made it through community college and to the state legislature. Other women in the ads praise Ms. Davis for fighting education cuts and promoting legislation that helped the prosecution of rape cases.

Male candidates are also trying to appeal to women.

In Colorado, vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mark Udall used his first TV spot to accuse his opponent of waging a campaign to ban birth control. In Alaska, Julie Sullivan, whose Republican husband, Dan, is running for Senate, appears in an ad praising his record on prosecuting domestic abusers and protecting women.

Ads focused on women will proliferate after the primary season, said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.

"I expect to see lots of ads targeting women as the general election heats up," she said.

Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics said the war over the women's may help Democrats "marginally in a few races, especially if the Republican nominee in a race is sharply conservative on social issues."

But he said Democrats face obstacles -- they control the White House, and the party that controls the White House typically performs worse in midterm elections. Mr. Skelley also said President Obama has a mediocre approval rating that will weigh down many Democrats.

"Democrats are in trouble and talking about the 'war on women' isn't going to be a silver bullet," he said.

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