NYT's Calmes Cheers Democratic Quest to Hold Senate Through 'Single Women' Strategy

July 3rd, 2014 4:26 PM

Jackie Calmes, New York Times reporter (and reliable water-carrier for Democrats), made Thursday's front page with a story on the competitive Senate race in North Carolina, a seat the Democrats desperately need to keep in order to maintain their hold on the U.S. Senate.

The nudging headline read: "To Hold Senate, Democrats Rely on Single Women." In the lead we revealingly learn that the decline of marriage has been a boon for the Democratic party (what it says about the well-being of the country being apparently less vital).

The decline of marriage over the last generation has helped create an emerging voting bloc of unmarried women that is profoundly reshaping the American electorate to the advantage, recent elections suggest, of the Democratic Party. What is far from clear is whether Democrats will benefit in the midterm contests this fall.

With their Senate majority at stake in November, Democrats and allied groups are now stepping up an aggressive push to woo single women -- young and old, highly educated and working class, never married, and divorced or widowed. This week they seized on the ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, five men, that family-owned corporations do not have to provide birth control in their insurance coverage, to buttress their arguments that Democrats better represent women’s interests.

But the challenge for Democrats is that many single women do not vote, especially in nonpresidential election years like this one. While voting declines across all groups in midterm contests for Congress and lower offices, the drop-off is steepest for minorities and unmarried women. The result is a turnout that is older, whiter and more conservative than in presidential years.


Nowhere is the courtship of unmarried women as intense as in North Carolina, where Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat struggling for a second term, recently has shown gains even in a Republican poll. Midway through a recent Saturday of campaigning, she described her mobilization strategy: “Heels on the ground.”


The Democrats’ model is last year’s victory in the off-year election for Virginia governor. Terry McAuliffe, bolstered by groups like Planned Parenthood’s political advocacy arm, beat a conservative Republican officeholder after a campaign in which women were repeatedly reminded about his rival’s record against reproductive rights. In a race decided by just over two percentage points, Mr. McAuliffe won unmarried female voters by 42 points.


Democrats say one advantage they have this year, compared with 2010, is that they can cite Republicans’ voting records since taking power that year in the House and in states like North Carolina. “The policy issues that unmarried women care about are legitimately under attack,” said Kelly Ward, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Calmes, echoing the Democratic playbook, cited a Fox News reporter who evidently offended single women, or at least those on Twitter (he was guilty of igniting a "social-media furor"). Then she heralded Rosie, an awkwardly acronymed new women's-vote project from the DCCC.

In response, Republican strategists are urging candidates to counter such talk of a Republican “war on women” by describing party policies as pro-family. Democrats “know if they can paint Republicans as meanspirited, that’s very helpful with women,” said Katie Packer Gage, a Republican consultant for the party’s effort to reach out to women. In a Twitter posting on Wednesday, her firm said, “Our party needs to take seriously the Democrats’ efforts to turn out single women.”

By then, however, a Fox News reporter had ignited a social-media furor by mocking the diverse bloc as Democrats’ “Beyoncé voters” -- for the entertainer’s hit song “Single Ladies” -- who depend on the government since they lack husbands.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee calls its new voter-mobilization program Rosie, evoking Rosie the Riveter, for Re-engaging Our Sisters in Elections. Among outside groups, the Voter Participation Center has sent registration materials to single women in 24 states, including North Carolina, and will follow up through the fall.

Calmes suggested Hagan's Republican challenger, Thom Tillis, was a conservative out of touch with women:

Mr. Tillis, as the state’s House speaker, is widely known for leading a run of conservative activism. The state has cut business taxes while reducing spending for education, unemployment benefits and Planned Parenthood. It has restricted abortion clinics, enacted voting limits, ended teacher tenure and rejected a federally funded Medicaid expansion. On the Tillis campaign website’s summary of his stand on issues, the symbol for jobs depicts a man’s dress shirt and tie.

While Calmes easily spotted "conservatives" on the Republican side, liberals were simply a "diverse crowd" of non-partisan interest groups.

Since spring, the Republicans’ record has stoked a Moral Monday movement of weekly protests at the legislature, drawing a diverse crowd including labor, civil rights and women’s groups. “I have never been especially political,” said Jenny Spencer, 26, an unmarried lab technician, at one evening protest. “But in the last year or so I think it’s become increasingly important in North Carolina not just to have your own views but to really make a point of advocating them.”