I know it sounds a bit far-fetched. A Republican Senate candidate in Indiana says something outrageous about rape, abortion and God and the party’s candidate for President begins to lose critical support in the polls. Far-fetched or not, there is a strong liklihood that it is true.
Back in late September, prior to the first debate, Barack Obama was building on a lead in the polls. What had been a narrow race was opening up to a comfortable 5% margin nationally. The Electoral College was beginning to break for Obama so that projections placed him closing in on 350 electoral votes. There was a gender gap in the polls. Men tended towards Mitt Romney, but women broke even stronger towards Obama.
Then Obama showed up at the first debate or rather he failed to show up. His performance was listless. Romney looked sharp. The candidate who was ridiculed for appearing as a rich guy who like to fire people, put his dog on his car and bemoan 47% of Americans as wanting a free ride, suddenly looked competent. All the campaign ads that Obama had aired effectively raising questions about Romney became irrelevant. Instead, here was a former governor who stood toe-to-toe with the President of the United States and bested him.
The second and third debates followed. Obama looked sharp in those. He edged Romney in both debates, but Romney looked competent in both of those as well. The trend was set, Romney was slowly gaining support. Some polls even showed him with a 1% lead nationally. Most importantly, the gender gap among women had nearly closed.
In this election, Women have distrusted Romney and the Republican right for what has been called “the war on women,” and there wasn’t enough confidence that Romney was going to do much better with the economy and Obama. Thus, about 10% of women voters who lean right on economic issues and left on social ones preferred Obama, until the debates that is.
In the debates, none of the crazy talk about contraception, banning abortion without exception or other questionable positions that raised concern in these women voters emerged. Romney looked like a candidate that could be trusted as president.
However, in the last 2-3 days, a small but perceptible shift has occurred in the polls. Romney’s surge of the last three weeks has halted. He is even beginning to lose support. It started around October 23.
New polls are showing Obama up by 4% in Iowa, 1% in New Hampshire, 3% in Nevada, 5% in Ohio and as much as 4% in Colorado. Even more disturbing for the Romney campaign is that there are indications that North Carolina, Virginia and Florida, states that were moving into Romney’s camp are now drifting back as tossups. It is difficult to tell if this is a momentary blip or a trend, but it appears that some women voters are reconsidering Romney and looking again at Obama.
The argument can be made that the last presidential debate started that change. While Obama won that debate, Romney and Obama agreed on most things except for battleships, horses and bayonets. That is an unlikely issue to move the polls. The more likely force behind the poll number shift is Richard Mourdock and these words:
“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
The small percentage of women voters, torn between a preference for Romney on economics and Obama on women’s issues, were just reminded why Republican candidates from Rick Santorum to Todd Akin scare the hell out of them.
Everyone wants to live an affluent life with a promise of even a better tomorrow. When that prosperity means trading away rights to control one’s body in return, it’s a Faustian bargain that doesn’t sell. There are few women in this country faced with the horror of rape and the trauma of a pregnancy that could follow that are willing to let government tell them what they can do with their bodies.
It doesn’t matter that Romney quickly disavowed Mourdock’s words. Romney shifted from a moderate in Massachusetts to an “extreme conservative” in the Republican primaries to a more moderate conservative this fall. The man is a chameleon without a backbone. He will change his positions to whatever will get him elected. Faced against a powerful interest group vital to his candidacy, Romney folds faster than a poker player with 2-7 offsuit hand.
The Akins and Mourdocks are a powerful group within the Republican Party too. These social conservatives keep the Republicans from attaining a strong hold on moderate voters because of their disavowal of climate change, evolution, medical marijuana, same-sex marriage and, of course, women’s rights. Yet while these extreme views hold the Republican Party back from a clear majority in national politics, it is nearly impossible to get the party’s nomination without paying homage to social conservatives.
These independent-minded women voters are aware of this too. When the extremes of the Republican Party begin to spout off that a woman can’t become pregnant if raped and if she does then it is God’s will, the tough economic times of today don’t look quite as unendurable.
If the polling trend continues and Obama regains his lost support, or even if Romney’s support tops off at the current levels, then the Republican Party can thank Mourdock for handing the election to Barack Obama.
That Obama finally came to life in the last two debates was important too, but that 10% of women, representing approximately 5% of voters are where this election hangs in balance. They realize that the Republican Party is comprised of a lot of Akins and Mourdocks. They also realize that a Romney administration and Republican Congress is going to face domination from this same group of old white men who think their interpretation of the Bible should be law. Because of that Mourdock may have made the last indelible impression of the election. His words are going to be hard for these women voters to forget come November 6.