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Democrats Hope To Turn Contraception Issue Against Brown

BOSTON — U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s support for a proposal that would have allowed employers to opt out of providing some health insurance coverage for religious or moral reasons was defeated Thursday. The U.S. Senate voted to table the measure sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Minutes after the Senate vote Thursday, Democrats went into campaign mode. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a video urging voters to support one of the 11 Democratic women running for Senate in 2012.

“If you don’t like what Republicans are doing,” the video says, “send a woman to the Senate. In fact, send them all.”

At the same time, David Kravitz, co-founder of Blue Mass Group, a Democratic political blog, wrote that Brown is now stuck with what Kravitz called “his foolish vote.”

“It’s an intensely personal issue, and it’s something that a lot of people feel very strongly about, so I think it could stick around and it could haunt him in November,” Kravitz said later in an interview with WBUR.

In a conference call with reporters, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, John Walsh, made the same prediction.

“In the fall, this may be one of the issues that people will look at, and may be an issue that might become known as Brown’s big mistake,” Walsh said.

Polls don’t provide much insight on the issue yet. There have been four polls in the past month that compare Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. The WBUR poll showed Warren slightly ahead. Two others gave Brown a lead of 9 to 10 points.

A poll released Thursday was the first conducted since the issue came to the forefront. The Rasmussen poll found Brown leading by 5 points. Is his lead down because he supported the so-called conscience exemption? Pollster Scott Rasmussen doesn’t think so.

“I doubt the Blunt amendment had a dramatic impact or any significant impact on this,” Rasmussen said. “Early on in the process there might be lots of reasons for supporting the incumbent senator or a lot of reasons to challenge him. But it’s more a general sense of team competitiveness rather than individual issues. The individual issues will play a bigger role when we get past Labor Day.”

But Maurice Cunningham, chairman of the Political Science Department at UMass Boston, believes Brown’s stand will hurt him.

“It was a mistake,” Cunningham said. “It was an obvious play for working-class Catholics, and I don’t think that they care so much about that issue as other issues, that he’s done quite well with economically, and so forth, and he’s got a backlash on the other side among independents and women that I think it’s costly.”

A poll released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Catholics support President Obama’s requirement that health plans supply free birth control. It was that requirement that prompted Republicans to offer employers a way out on religious or moral grounds.

Democrats are hoping to polarize women against Brown. The Kaiser poll, however, found that this issue actually divides women just as much as it does men.

“We found that there wasn’t really a gender gap,” said Mollyann Brodie, who conducted the poll. “Men and women supported this requirement about the same shares, but what we did find is that the partisan gap does persist for women.”

Republican women oppose the requirement, while Democratic women support it. Brodie said what’s driving the split is a belief among Republican women that the government is overstepping its bounds with the Affordable Care Act.

Boston College political science professor Marc Landy believes that some independent Massachusetts Catholics and Democrats could also be receptive to Brown’s message.

“They get a sense that maybe government is getting a bit too intrusive here,” Landy said. “That’s the fear of the Obamacare in general, that it is intrusive.”

The Kaiser poll also found that 40 percent of Catholics nationwide oppose the president’s requirement that health plans cover contraception, enough perhaps to be part of a coalition of voters that, in Massachusetts, could carry Brown over the top come November.

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