“Terri Schiavo Moment”

Now that it’s reasonably clear that the Obama administration’s contraception coverage mandate is not turning into a “wedge issue” that herds large number of Catholic voters into the GOP column, it’s time to consider whether the preoccupation of Republicans with rolling back reproductive rights and attacking the organizations that defend them could become a problem.

In its latest strategic memo, (via Greg Sargent), Stan Greenberg and James Carville’s Democracy Corps reviews the controversies over the Komen Foundation’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood and the contraception coverage mandate, and concludes: “We may yet look back on this debate and wonder whether this was a Terry Schiavo moment.”

Democracy Corps’ own measurement of public perceptions of the contraception mandate dispute reinforces the impression that Republicans have been barking up the wrong tree if they thought this would “wedge” voters in their direction. DC offered voters fair and strongly worded versions of both sides’ arguments in the dispute, and found Obama’s position favored by a 49-43 margin among all respondents, and a virtually identical 49-42 margin among Catholics. Moreover:

The Obama position finds a two-thirds majority among suburban voters and a 61 percent majority among single women. These results loom large when voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by 52 to 26 percent on women’s issues, including a 36-point margin among senior women and a 47-point margin among unmarried women.

A intensification and nationalization of the culture wars by the GOP could work wonders for Democrats in several demographic categories where previously strong support has been lagging since 2008 (unmarried woman, younger voters). And it could certainly help keep Democrats motivated to vote. It’s often said, derisively, that Democrats are in trouble if the only emotionally compelling presidential-election appeal they can make to progressives is: “Think about the Supreme Court!” With each fresh threat to reproductive rights, the kind of society conservatives want to build via the funding and regulatory powers of the federal government and a transformed federal judiciary becomes a little bit clearer. “Terri Schiavo moments” help.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.