US Sen. Kay Hagan banks on women's vote

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 17, 2014 

  • Where they stand

    Access to women’s health care and abortion:

    Hagan: Abortion should be a woman’s decision. “Women, not politicians, should be the ones to make these difficult and complex decisions in consultation with their doctor, their family and their faith,” she says.

    Tillis: Believes abortion should be permitted only in situations where the mother’s health is at risk and in cases of rape and incest. His campaign website says he “believes in protecting the rights of the unborn.”

    In the Senate, Hagan:

    • Opposed an amendment in 2012 that would have allowed employers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for health services they disagreed with, including contraceptives. The amendment failed. Current law allows religious organizations to opt out of covering contraceptives.

    • Opposed a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except when the mother’s life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest.

    • Hagan also voted in the Senate to pass the Affordable Care Act. Her campaign points out two elements of the law that concern women. One is that private insurance plans under the law must provide preventive services, including mammograms and cervical cancer screening, at no cost to patients. The other is that the law prevents insurance companies from charging women more than men.

    In the legislature, Tillis:

    • In 2013, while Tillis was House speaker, the legislature passed a law that gave the state the authority to regulate abortion clinics as stringently as same-day surgery centers, but doesn’t require it. The law also allows health care providers to opt out of performing abortions if doing so is against their beliefs, and stops government insurance plans from paying for them.

    • Tillis also supported state efforts that blocked Planned Parenthood from receiving funding from the state for its screenings and other health services.

    •  Tillis said that if elected, he would work for repeal of Obamacare. He has said that the high cost of insurance and problems of people with pre-existing conditions should be met with market-based solutions.

    Equal pay

    In the Senate, Hagan:

    • Voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, which extended the time in which a person could sue for pay discrimination in response to changes made in a 2007 Supreme Court ruling.

    • Voted for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that among other things prohibited retaliation by employers against workers who disclose the wages of others in response to complaints. The measure failed to get the 60 votes it needed in the Senate in April.

    •  Supports raising the minimum wage to $10.10.

    In the legislature, Tillis:

    • Under his leadership, Republicans in the House did not support an equal-pay bill introduced by former Democratic Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh. The bill did not get a vote in the House.

    • Opposes pay discrimination in the workplace based on gender or any other demographic factor, said his spokesman, Jordan Shaw.

    • Opposed a federal minimum wage increase, saying the decision should be left to the states.

— Women were the key to U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s election in 2008, and in what is expected to be a close race for re-election this year, she is stressing issues aimed at them – equal pay, health care, birth control and education.

The strategy is part of the North Carolina Democrat’s efforts to attack the policies pushed over the past three years by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, where her GOP opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, has played a major role.

Hagan’s game plan tries to capitalize on her party’s strength among female voters and gives her campaign a message that it hopes will appeal to women who vote independent as well. Boosting the Democratic turnout in the November midterm election is crucial for Hagan, and Democratic candidates across the country. Midterms are traditionally low-turnout elections and often hurt the party in power.

“In all close Senate races, male or female, Democrats win by winning women more than they lose men by,” said Democratic political strategist Celinda Lake.

Particularly important for Hagan will be the groups that traditionally drop off in off-year elections – unmarried women under 55, younger women and women of color, Lake said.

‘Women for Kay’

In a recent interview, Hagan said she would have “the biggest, most effective turnout operation North Carolina has ever seen in a Senate race.” She said it would include “neighbor to neighbor” visits to women by campaign volunteers.

On Monday, the campaign will unveil another piece of her strategy, the formation of “Women for Kay,” which will fan out seeking support and post campaign news on Facebook.

The group’s chairwomen are Betty McCain of Wilson, the former head of the state Department of Cultural Resources; Nelda Leon of Charlotte, a criminal justice consultant and president of the Hispanic American Democrats of Mecklenburg County; civil rights leader Minnie Jones of Asheville; and youth advocate Constance Hyman of Wilmington.

Hagan’s message will be pointing out policies that Tillis supported in the state legislature that her campaign believes are detrimental to women, including his opposition to a state equal-pay measure; and his opposition to a proposed increase in the federal minimum wage. The increase – from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 – was also rejected by Congress.

Tillis also voted for restrictions on abortion services last year, and in 2011 voted to override then-Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the budget that cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Tillis also has said states should have the right to ban contraception, though he hasn’t said whether North Carolina should do so.

Hagan’s campaign has also criticized Tillis for supporting a constitutional amendment on “personhood,” which would grant legal protections to a fertilized human egg and possibly ban some forms of birth control.

Under Tillis’ leadership, the legislature’s 2013 budget also cut spending on education, opposed raises for teachers and ended a pay supplement for teachers with master’s degrees. In the current legislative session, however, he supports an across-the-board pay raise for teachers for the coming year.

Tillis targeting women, too

Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw said that the Republicans will “target our message” to women as well, and will portray their Senate nominee as someone who can “get the nation’s economy back on track.”

“I feel that Speaker Tillis has done that during his three years in Raleigh, in showing an ability to pass balanced budgets,” Shaw said. “We also feel like there needs to be a demonstrated ability to put more money in the pockets of taxpayers and less money to the government.”

Hagan’s campaign, meanwhile, ticks off a list of measures that she has supported to benefit women: raising the minimum wage; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, which restored rights to sue for pay discrimination stripped away in a 2007 Supreme Court decision; and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which, among other provisions, prohibits retaliation by employers against workers who disclose the wages of others in response to complaints. The measure failed to get the 60 votes it needed in the Senate in April.

Her campaign also says that she has supported “measures that increase women’s access to preventive care and stopped insurance companies from charging women more than they charge men.” Both are part of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have attacked Hagan and other Democrats for voting for it and assuring voters that they could keep health care plans if they like them, when instead some, whose plans didn’t comply, were forced to get new coverage.

Hagan also voted against a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in Congress, which failed to pass.

Planned Parenthood North Carolina plans to spend $3.3 million on Hagan’s re-election. Its major effort will be to target a group of 135,643 voters in Wake and Mecklenburg counties, many of whom vote infrequently.

Tillis, said Paige Johnson, vice president of external affairs for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Central North Carolina, has “run this legislature far to the right and has really pushed through extremist policies. And we are a moderate state. The extremism going on in Raleigh has, I think, sort of woken up people, and they’re paying attention.”

Republican strategist Katie Packer Gage, a partner at Burning Glass Consulting in Alexandria, Va., who focuses on political messaging to women, said she wasn’t surprised that Hagan has made women a priority. She suggested that the senator is trying to divert voters’ attention from the health care law and the economy.

Gage said that many women feel worse off under the Affordable Care Act, or have heard stories of others who say they’re paying more or have found their doctors aren’t included in their insurance plans, she said.

The pivotal vote

The reason for all the political attention is that women vote in higher numbers and make up a bigger part of undecided voters than men do, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, which provides scholarly research and data.

They are also more likely to support Democratic candidates than men are, and they make their choices on the basis of the candidates’ policies, not their gender, said Debbie Walsh, the center’s director.

Noting that they earn less, save less for retirement and tend to live longer than men do, “Women feel more economically vulnerable than men do,” she said. “That sense of insecurity tends to lead women voters toward the party that supports the social safety net.”

Indeed, when Hagan won her seat in 2008, she carried 55 percent of the women’s vote in North Carolina, compared with 41 percent for the Republican incumbent, Elizabeth Dole.

Still, Walsh said, this year will be a jump ball.

“I think you’re going to be seeing all over the country on both sides of the aisle a big push to reach women voters,” she said. “They have been a pivotal vote in elections.”

Email: rschoof@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @reneeschoof

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