Opposing Reproductive Rights Really Matters in Colorado

If you wonder why Republican Senate nominee Cory Gardner blatantly flip-flopped on his past support a “personhood” initiative (even though he still is listed as a cosponsor on a similar federal resolution) and now is running ads calling for sale of oral contraceptives over-the-counter, check out Shane Goldmacher’s column at National Journal about the special potency of the issue in Colorado:

This is the third straight election cycle that Democrats have leaned heavily on reproductive rights. “It is the exact same playbook they used in 2010, 2012,” said Sean Tonner, a Colorado GOP strategist. And that’s because it works.

Colorado voters support reproductive rights by wide margins, year after year. In 2010, Bennet used months of nonstop abortion messaging to open up a 17-point advantage among women—the biggest gender gap of any Senate race in the country. He did it by focusing on Republican Ken Buck’s opposition to abortion in the case of rape or incest, and his decision as a district attorney not to prosecute a rape case, saying the victim might have suffered “buyer’s remorse.” Craig Hughes, who was Bennet’s campaign manager, estimated that between one-third and half of all the ads that Bennet aired touched on the topic of abortion.

In 2012, President Obama followed Bennet’s cue, running a campaign calibrated to appeal to women in Colorado by talking about reproductive rights. He won the state, too, though by only a 1-point margin among women….

[This cycle] no fewer than four pro-Democratic groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood’s political arm, have joined the abortion and birth-control barrage. Even the environment-focused group funded by billionaire Tom Steyer, NextGen Climate, opened its latest television ad this week by first referring to Gardner’s opposition to “common forms of birth control,” before pivoting to the environment….

Hughes, now a Colorado strategist for NextGen Climate, said abortion is so powerful a messaging tool in the western state because it serves as a “prism issue” for libertarian-leaning Colorado voters. “Once people understand where you fall on this, other issues make more sense,” Hughes said. “For example, if you are 100 percent anti-choice but also for no limits on pollution, then those two tie together with a certain value set that is far out of touch with Coloradans.”

On top of everything else, there’s another “personhood” initiative on the ballot in Colorado in November. So Republican efforts to change the subject will only go so far.

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.