BOSTON — U.S. Sen. Scott Brown is enlisting the help of a fellow Republican in his quest for re-election. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine was in Boston Monday to campaign for Brown.
Snowe defended Brown’s vote in favor of giving employers a religious exemption to providing certain health coverage, but some Republican women in Massachusetts have been worried about the direction the national party has been taking.
Meredith Warren is a Republican political consultant. But lately she has found it hard to defend the national Republican party because of some of the positions Republicans have taken, whether it’s Rush Limbaugh calling a college student a “prostitute,” or Rick Santorum speaking out against contraception.
“Honestly, most of my friends are Democrats, and in a lot of ways I have a trouble convincing them sometimes to consider voting Republican because of their stance on women’s issues,” Warren said.
Democrats hope to capitalize on that by focusing on Republican positions on women’s health.
Emily’s List, a national organization that funds Democratic women who support legalized abortion, has conducted polling it hopes to use against Republican Senate candidates, including Brown. They’re planning to target him for a vote he took earlier this month.
Brown co-sponsored a bill that would have allowed employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage if they have religious or moral objections. Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock says her group’s polling found Republicans vulnerable on women’s health issues.
“When 53 percent of independents and 40 percent of Republicans say, ‘We do not want bosses to control our health care,’ this is really going to be a problem for any of the Republicans, including Sen. Scott Brown, who co-sponsored this,” Schriock said. “It’s going to be a problem in November for these folks.”
The Emily’s List survey found that, in general, voters favored Republican candidates in Senate races. But when voters were told that the GOP candidate supported the bill Brown co-sponsored, the Republican advantage disappeared. The poll only measured generic Republican and Democratic candidates and didn’t name specific candidates, so Democratic attacks might not stick against Brown.
Meredith Warren believes that in standing up for freedom of religion, Brown knew his constituents.
“I do think that it worked for Scott here in Massachusetts because I think that Massachusetts is more conservative than it lets on sometimes, or that some people like to believe,” Warren said.
Brown has worked hard to make a name for himself as a defender of women. He wants to allow women in combat roles, and last week he stood on the Senate floor to advocate renewal of a law that funds shelters for victims of domestic violence by relating his own experiences as a 6-year-old boy trying to protect his mother from an abusive husband.
“And it’s something that still lives with me,” Brown said. “And I try to use that experience and knowledge to help in many different ways, and when I was growing up there, quite frankly, weren’t the resources that are available today.”
The bill now has a filibuster-proof 60 co-sponsors. Brown was the 31st senator to sign on, and the fifth Republican. The next day, he toured a Massachusetts shelter with his sister, Lee-Ann Riley, and talked about how abusive partners terrorize their victims.
“Listen, bottom line is the biggest challenge, and we talk about it, Lee-Ann and I a lot, and my mom, is this lack of control,” Brown said. “When you have somebody who controls the purse strings, who is physically stronger than you, and you don’t know where to turn and they keep beating you down emotionally.”
At his campaign headquarters in South Boston Monday, Brown announced the support of 500 women. At the event, Snowe defended his vote in favor of giving employers a religious exemption to providing certain medical coverage.
“So we could have, you know, a disagreement about how you accomplish that goal, but essentially, the key question is does Scott Brown support women’s access to health services and health care?” Snowed asked. “Absolutely. That’s the bottom-line issue, and that’s what everybody should be concerned about.”
The polls have been all over the place in the race between Brown and his likely Democratic opponent, Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. Peter Ubertaccio, who teaches a course on Massachusetts politics at Stonehill College, says it’s not clear how the contraception or religious freedom issue is going to play out for Brown.
“I do think that he’s finessed it well and I think that he’s survived that particular issue, and then to have Olympia Snowe come right on the heels of it and lend her support is really going to help buttress him against any claims that he’s engaged in this Republican so-called war on women,” Ubertaccio said.
Brown’s support among women is something that Tim Vercellotti of Western New England University is taking a look at. He conducted a poll of the Warren-Brown race earlier this month.
“What we saw was Brown was leading Warren among men, 56-35, and that’s probably what you’d expect,” Vercelotti said. “Warren was leading Brown among women only 46-42, and based on previous surveys, not necessarily of this race, but say, the governor’s race, we would see a bigger advantage for the Democratic candidate among women than a four-point spread.”
One of Brown’s most prominent supporters is former acting Gov. Jane Swift. She’s confident that Republicans have the winning women’s issue.
“Certainly, there are a lot issues that women prioritize differently, but frankly, I think this race, whether it’s at the Senate level or at the presidential level, is going to come down to jobs and the economy,” Swift said. “Women often manage the budgets of their families and know how devastating the economic slowdown of the last several years has been.”
But Brown’s not counting on a bad economy to win over over women. He’s trying to prove himself as their champion on an array of issues.