Social issues come to the fore in CD-7 race

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet rode to victory in Colorado two years ago with the support of women, who wanted nothing to do with Republican challenger Ken Buck’s hardline position on abortion and what seemed to be a dismissive attitude toward women in general.

This year, Democratic incumbent CD-7 Congressman Ed Perlmutter may be banking to some extent on similarly winning the support of women in his race against right-wing Republican beer-industry scion Joe Coors.

“I definitely think these issues matter to women,” Leslie Oliver, Perlmutter’s campaign spokesperson told The Colorado Independent, talking about abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.

“[Coors’] high-profile support for personhood matters to women. He is not just someone who voted for it, he funded it,” Oliver said, referring to Coors’ well documented $1000 contribution to a pro-personhood campaign in 2010.

GOP strategist Katy Atkinson told the Colorado Independent that Perlmutter is trying to take a page out of the Bennet playbook. “Democrats are trying to paint Republicans as whack jobs,” she said.

“I get frustrated as a woman,” she said, “when people try to say that women’s votes are motivated primarily by their reproductive organs. I’m offended by that,” Atkinson said.

These issues were in the forefront Tuesday morning at a small coffee house in Edgewater, when women from the district gathered to discuss their concerns with Coors and voice their support for Perlmutter.

Organized by Campaign for a Strong Colorado, the event drew speakers from across the state’s progressive landscape.

When Miriam Pena, from Colorado Progressive Action, noted that personhood has been rejected twice by Colorado voters “by two-to-one margins,” she actually went easy on the facts, which are that personhood lost by margins of greater than 70 to 30 in 2008 and 2010.

She also noted that this year, personhood didn’t even qualify for the ballot.

Pena said Coors is still anti-abortion but now favors some exceptions. “Can we really trust a politician who flip-flops on this? I don’t think so,” she said.

A Coors campaign aide confirmed that Coors now favors abortion exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother. A campaign spokesperson did not return a call seeking further comment.

The personhood amendments proposed in Colorado and elsewhere would ban all abortions, including when a woman has been raped or is the victim of incest. Personhood amendments would also ban abortions even to save the life of the mother and would ban some common forms of contraception.

“Joe Coors not only supported personhood, he wrote a thousand dollar check. Joe Coors is so out of touch,” Pena said.

Norman Provizer, a political science professor at Metro State University, said that while some people do change their positions on issues, when a politician changes his views, people are right to look at the change skeptically.

“[Coors] has a model in how you can change your position on these issues in Governor Romney,” Provizer said. “People are entitled to change their views, but no one should take these changes seriously, because they don’t represent real change as much as campaign calculus.”

Gina Hartley, who owns the Edgewater Coffee Company, where the event took place, said she was especially concerned about Coors’ opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

She spoke in more depth about her concerns after the event.

“Joe Coors is opposed to the ACA. His stance will hurt women, especially me. Just as we are finally treated equally and being a woman is no longer a preexisting condition, he wants to go backwards,” she said.

She said she has two serious health conditions that made it impossible to get insurance prior to the passage of the ACA. She said thousands of people like her in the state can now buy insurance. “Joe Coors would put that at risk. We can’t leave our health care to the whims of millionaires.”

Hartley said her ability to get health insurance is a huge factor in her being able to stay in business–and to build her business, which is almost four years old.

She said after ACA passed, she began getting letters from insurance companies that had previously rejected her, now trying to sell her insurance at rates she could afford.

Oliver said that any voters who don’t think a congressman’s position on abortion matters should understand that, in the last congress, there were 12 votes that she said affected a woman’s right to choose.

“On one side of his mouth, Coors says he wants to get the government out of our lives, but then he says women should not be allowed to make our own health care decisions. This is a big deal. We don’t want to roll back decades of advancements in women’s rights,” Oliver said.

Provizer said he was surprised that social issues were playing such a large role in this year’s elections. “Everybody knew this election would be about the economy and jobs,” he said.

Atkinson said that at the end of the day, this election is still about jobs and the economy and that those are the issues that voters care the most about.

He said the reasons social issues are playing such a large role in the election is that some Republicans have moved far to the right, offending even some of their own base, such as he said Coors did with his support for personhood.

“These issues have emerged because Republicans have pushed them to extremes. If the candidates have a modest difference on these issues, that is not so important, but when you push them to extremes, even politically moderate women are offended, and rightfully so,” Provizer said.

Another reason that subjects like abortion and gay marriage are important, Provizer said, is that they are issues where everyone knows what they believe and so it is easy to take sides. On things like jobs and the economy, while virtually all voters want a strong economy and more jobs, there is much less certainty about how to accomplish those things, he said.

Long term, Provizer said, he expects the Republican Party to have a hard time with abortion, gay rights and immigration. “With the growth in Latino voters and with young voters, the Republican Party is on a road to disaster. Any major party has to change over time and unless Republicans make adjustments they are on a road that leads nowhere,” he said.

Atkinson countered that some of the views expressed by Republican senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock are out of the mainstream in the Republican Party and that as more young people come in to the party, the party’s positions will be likely to change. “Young conservatives don’t necessarily have the same views as older conservatives,” she said.

Images of Edgewater Coffee owner Gina Hartley: Kersgaard.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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