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What Women's Votes Could Mean For The Midterms

RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: In this year's midterm elections, the women's vote could be decisive. In presidential elections, Democrats have been on the winning end of the gender gap. More women turn out than men, and they vote more Democratic. But that hasn't been true in midterms. Here to talk about the women's vote is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: So are there signs that Democrats are holding onto their traditional advantage among women?

LIASSON: In many races, Democrats are still leading with women, but their edge is much, much smaller than it was during the 2012 elections. And the polls look like - a lot like 2010, when the gender gap essentially disappeared and the women's vote split 49 to 49 percent. And don't forget that in 2012, Mitt Romney actually won the married women's vote by about seven points. Barack Obama won the single women's vote, the unmarried women's vote by 29 points, and that's how he won the overall women's vote. And the problem for Democrats is that single women tend to drop off in midterm elections. Their participation rate drops by about 20 points.

MONTAGNE: OK, but what about their efforts to target single women? Is it working insofar as there would be voting Democratic?

LIASSON: When single women turn out to vote, they do vote Democratic, and Democrats have been trying very, very hard to increase the participation of single women this year. They've basically dusted off their playbook from 2012 and 2010. They're running what we call a war-on-women campaign, accusing Republicans of waging a war on women. They've been attacking Republican candidates for supporting personhood amendments, which would give constitutional rights to embryos. In some states, though, like Colorado, Democrats have been criticized for running a campaign that's not about much more than women's reproductive rights. The Denver Post criticized a Democratic Senate candidate there, Mark Udall, for running a, quote, "obnoxious one-issue campaign." One of their report called Udall, Mark Uterus. So Democrats are struggling a bit with this, something that's worked for them in the past.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about Republicans, because in the last midterm election and the last presidential election, there were Republican candidates who alienated women - some pretty famous stories, comments about rape and pregnancy.

LIASSON: Well, that's one of the biggest changes this year. You see Republicans acting a lot differently. It's not just that Republicans are not making mistakes like the ones you mentioned; they are affirmatively going after the women's vote this year by changing their positions. For instance, in Colorado, Cory Gardner, the Republican has disavowed his support for a personhood amendment. He's also coming out in favor of over-the-counter birth control, and on that issue, he now agrees with Planned Parenthood. So Republicans aren't fighting the last war, and in some cases, they are really cutting into Democrats' support among women. And that's a real problem for Democrats. They need a big gender gap to win.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about the guys because obviously a big part of the gender gap is the other gender. What's happening with the male vote?

LIASSON: The male vote continues to be a big advantage for Republicans. The latest Washington Post poll show that nationally Republicans have a double-digit advantage with men. Democrats only have a single-digit advantage with women. That's a real problem.

MONTAGNE: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.