In House races, appeals for women voters

If you ask just about any Congressional candidate this year what they are most focused on in this election, they’ll all give you the same answer: jobs and the economy. Anyone who says anything else should be immediately disqualified for a lack of political brainpower.

So candidates from both parties agree: jobs are good. We like jobs. I’ve yet to hear anyone say they oppose jobs. Of course, if anyone had an easy answer for how Congress can do that, it would have been done by now, so while everyone would really love to see some more hiring, policy prescriptions are pretty much boilerplate for both Rs and Ds: cut regulations, encourage job training, bring jobs back from abroad. Specifics are few and far between.

Where the parties have a much more clearly, concretely defined difference, and where local Democrats have tried to make a stand, are on women’s issues. There is a sharp distinction here: incumbent House Republicans have voted to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and restrict federal funding for abortion. Several GOP House members backed a bill that initially included the controversial term “forcible rape” to describe an exception to abortion limits. Democrats in the area say they would take the exact opposite approach.

Democrat Kathy Boockvar, running against U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, constantly says that her focus is on jobs. But her first Web video and latest television ad zero in on women’s issues, including, prominently, Fitzpatrick’s vote on Planned Parenthood. In the ad, Boockvar says Fitzpatrick would “roll back decades of progress with policies that hurt Pennsylvania women.”

Fitzpatrick’s first television spot was ostensibly about jobs, but note it’s opening: the very first image shows the Congressman in his living room with his wife and three daughters, and the ad quickly cuts to photos of the daughters. The ad ends by talking about creating opportunities – so that young people like Fitzpatrick’s daughters can have a better future. He neatly wraps women into the GOP’s bread-and-butter message – the economy – without having to directly engage on his Planned Parenthood vote or other issues that might cause trouble with some Bucks County women voters. He also posted this Web video focusing exclusively on his work on women’s issues.

Shelley Adler, a Democrat in South Jersey, and Manan Trivedi, running in Chester County, also raised Planned Parenthood in editorial board meetings with the Inquirer, criticizing votes by incumbent Republicans Jon Runyan and Jim Gerlach.

The election may be about the economy, but when it comes to drawing distinctions in ads and making a difference on Election Day, both parties seem to realize that women voters may hold the key.