A women’s right to legal abortion and full access to reproductive health services, including contraception, remains at the center of the message war waging between incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall and reelection opponent Republican Congressman Cory Gardner — despite Gardner’s many attempts to move the debate on to other topics.
Udall presents the issue and makes his case for why it matters in perhaps the most dramatically straightforward way you may ever see in the stagey, stiff, cliched world of political television advertising. The ad, released today, appears to launch a new chapter in the national political rhetorical battle partly by acknowledging that the time to write this chapter is long overdue. As MSNBC reporter and women’s-health politics analyst Irin Carmon tweets, “Hey look, Mark Udall said the word ‘abortion’ twice in a TV ad. (Not ‘women’s health.’)”
“No one could blame you for checking a calendar to remind yourself, ‘Yep, it really is 2014,'” Udall says to the camera. “So how is it we’re still debating a woman’s access to abortion or birth control? For most of us, those debates got settled by the last generation. Yet today there are still politicians like Congressman Gardner promoting harsh anti-abortion laws and a bill to outlaw birth control. I’m Mark Udall. Those rights and freedoms are yours. We won’t let anyone take us backwards…”
Yes, he said “abortion,” twice. He also said “birth control,” and unflinchingly, which has turned out to be something worth noting in Colorado politics this year. Not all candidates for office have cleared that bar.
This, despite the fact that Colorado is a solid pro-choice state. For years, voters have defeated anti-abortion measures by large majorities at the ballot box and state lawmakers have quashed them easily at the legislature. Colorado is also a long-time small-government state. The Udall ad plays on both themes.
Gardner this week is the beneficiary of a Karl Rove Crossroads GPS ad that seeks to persuade women not to primarily consider Gardner’s anti-abortion record when voting in the Senate race. Talking about his record on the issue is “scare tactics,” four women in the Crossroads ad say. “We want a real conversation about issues that matter,” they say.
Set the ads side by side, and it’s difficult not to see one as significantly more powerful than the other. As Ron Brownstein at the National Journal argues, there’s an advantage to being on the offense in today’s cultural wars. Democrats are acting with rock-solid confidence born from knowledge that “they represent an expanding majority of public opinion” and that Republicans like Gardner are identified as “the champions of forces most resistant to the profound demographic and cultural dynamics reshaping American life.” As pollster Stan Greenberg puts it: “Republicans are on the losing side of all of these trends,” and Democrats like Udall know it.