Women's Issues Key in Massachusetts Senate Race

With only two weeks until election day, women’s issues have become the latest and perhaps final flashpoint in Massachusetts’s much-watched U.S. Senate race, providing insight into both campaigns’ strategy and encapsulating much of the derision that has characterized the contest thus far.

The debate surrounding women’s issues, which has emerged at various points during the race, reclaimed center stage a week and half ago during a debate between the candidates in Springfield.

Though the political conversation has focused on U.S. Senator Scott Brown’s stances on a number of key issues affecting women, more important to the campaigns is how the debate may influence the demographics of voters showing up to the polls on Election Day, political strategists say.

In the Oct. 10 debate, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren attacked Brown for voting against equal pay for equal work, insurance coverage for contraception, and against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.

“He didn’t offer an amendment to say ‘here’s what we can do to make this better,’” Warren said in a conference call with college journalists. “He just voted in lockstep with the other Republicans to say no....And those are bad votes for women.”

Brown, who is a moderate Republican, said he voted against the bills in question because they were bad legislation, not because he does not support women.

Since the debate, the argument has spilled over into advertisements and onto the campaign trail as both sides have tried to make their case to women, Massachusetts’s dominant voting group. On Monday, Brown received the endorsement of Laurie Myers, a leading advocate for female abuse victims, and pledged to be an advocate for women in the Senate.

Warren spent the weekend campaigning with U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, raising awareness about Brown’s voting record and advocating for equal rights for women and the LGBTQ community.

But political strategists say the back and forth has more to do with the broader electoral goals of each campaign than with the issues themselves.

For Warren, women’s issues are a chance to excite her own base and tie Brown to the national Republican Party.

For Brown, whose base consists of male voters, capturing the votes of certain segments of independent women will be key to winning the heavily Democratic Bay State.

Former Boston City Councillor Lawrence S. Dicara ’71 said that the focus on women is part of a larger effort by Warren’s campaign to optomize voter turnout. Historically, higher voter turnout in Massachusetts translates to a more female and more Democratic electorate—which means more votes for Warren.

“Warren’s trying to create a wedge between Brown and women voters that she can use to get more women to the polls,” said Republican political consultant Rob Gray.

Tying Brown to the national GOP and to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could push those tallies even higher, Gray said. Massachusetts is expected to overwhelmingly support Democratic President Barack Obama, but turnout is also expected to fall from 2008 levels as excitement around the presidential race wanes.

“The presidential race in this blue state can and does trickle down to Senate races,” Gray said. “[The Warren camp’s] hope is that voters conclude that Brown is just like Romney and vote a straight ticket Democrat.”