Democrats have a new goal for the 2016 elections: Make Donald Trump like Todd Akin.
Akin, then a US Senate candidate in Missouri, ignited a media firestorm in 2012 when he asserted that women rarely get pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape” because they have ways to “shut that whole thing down.”
Speaking to Business Insider last week, two operatives working for female Democratic US Senate candidates mentioned how Democrats hoped to use Trump’s comments about women much as Democrats used Akin’s comments in 2012.
And Democrats would appear to have plenty to work with when it comes to Trump.
The billionaire asserted that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” by then-Sen. Barack Obama during the 2008 election. He said Clinton’s bathroom break during one of the debates was “too disgusting” to talk about. He mocked rival Carly Fiorina’s appearance and voice.
As BuzzFeed pointed out, Trump repeatedly made derogatory comments about women during interviews with shock jock Howard Stern. Among other things, Trump rated women on a 10-point scale, ranked women he’d like to sleep with, and said his former wife had “nice tits, no brains.”
While Democrats are quick to publicly condemn Trump’s rhetoric, some party operatives see Trump’s likely nomination as an opportunity to draw stark contrasts between Democratic rising stars with the GOP frontrunner.
Groups like Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice, female Democratic candidates, contend that many of this year’s Senate candidates are well positioned to use Trump as a foil for their own experiences and campaign platforms.
“Trump’s offensive, out of touch comments towards women stand in stark contrast with our candidates’ personal life stories,” Emily’s List Press Secretary Rachel Thomas told Business Insider in an email. “No one understands the challenges women and families face than women leaders themselves.”
Thomas added: “Republicans won’t be able to avoid the shadow of Donald Trump come November.”
There’s plenty of evidence already that suggests Trump could have a difficult time wooing conservative female voters, who some Democratic operatives hope will be swayed to voting for their party’s candidates across the board.
According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, half of US women reported having a “very unfavorable” view of Trump, a far higher number than Trump’s unfavorable rating among men All of Trump’s Republican rivals fare better among women.
Christine Matthews, a longtime pollster and consultant on Republican campaigns, told Business Insider that the GOP would have to work hard to brand their Senate candidates individually in order to motivate female voters to turn out to vote despite possible ambivalence about Clinton and Trump.
“If an incumbent has a strong brand and a strong identity, he or she will have a better chance of withstanding Trump at the top of the ticket than someone who is a challenger or less well-known,” Matthews said.
The US Senate campaigns will really have to step up their ID and turnout of Republican women who might be inclined to stay home and not vote for either Trump or Clinton. They will need these turned-off GOP women to come out to vote in the US Senate race.
Many female Democratic candidates have already attempted to draw comparisons between Trump and their Republican opponents, hammering Trump on his comments about women.
Last month, Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona released her first ad of the campaign season: a spot hammering her opponent, GOP Sen. John McCain, over his promise to support Trump if he becomes the Republican nominee.
The ad plays through some of Trump’s most provocative comments, including insults directed at Fox News host Megyn Kelly and Trump’s announcement at a rally that one of his supporters had called rival Ted Cruz a “pussy.”
“There was a time John McCain would have stood up to Donald Trump. Instead, McCain has decided to kowtow to Trump in the name of being ‘a loyal Republican,'” Kirkpatrick said in a release accompanying the ad. “Trump has insulted women, Latinos, even McCain himself! But despite all that, McCain has decided to let party loyalty Trump what is best for Arizona.”
Katie McGinty, locked in a tough Pennsylvania US Senate race with two Democratic opponents, has aimed her message specifically at working mothers and families. Though McGinty has said that she is troubled the media’s heavy focus on Trump, her campaign is also attempting to contrast her platform with Trump’s while tying the real-estate mogul to GOP Sen. Pat Toomey.
Campaign spokesperson Sabrina Singh pointed out that Toomey had refused to return cash raised at a fundraiser hosted by Trump.
“Senator Toomey has already benefited from Trump’s hateful rhetoric and offensive comments towards women when Trump headlined a fundraiser that directly benefited Toomey’s reelection,” Singh told Business Insider. “Katie is fighting for pay equity, paid family medical leave and protecting a woman’s right to choose — a message that will resonate with voters over Trump’s bigotry and hatred.”
Singh added: “The divisive speech coming from Trump already set up the clearest possible contrast in Pennsylvania, where women are facing economic challenges that have been ignored by Senator Toomey.”
Other candidates have explicitly linked Trump and their opponents’ positions on issues important to some female voters.
North Carolina State Rep. Deborah Ross’ US Senate campaign highlighted Republican incumbent Sen. Richard Burr’s affirmative statements about Trump’s candidacy.
“Given Donald Trump’s comments about women, it’s disappointing that Senator Burr is ‘delighted’ by his candidacy,” Ross’ communications director, Austin Vevurka told Business Insider.
Vevurka then connected the Trump issue to federal policies:
Senator Burr has opposed the Violence Against Women Act, said no to equal pay for equal work, and voted defund Planned Parenthood which provides important and lifesaving health care services to thousands women throughout North Carolina.
“The Burr-Trump combo is wrong for women and out of touch with North Carolina values,” Vevurka said.
Even Republicans have joined in the fray. The anti-Trump Our Principles PAC, a Republican effort to thwart the frontrunner, recently ran an ad showing women reading out loud what Trump has said about other women. It’s been viewed on YouTube over 2 million times:
As a whole, Republican candidates have largely attempted to steer the focus away from Trump.
When asked by Business Insider about Kirkpatrick’s ad and whether the campaign was concerned that Trump’s rhetoric was alienating female voters, McCain’s spokesperson called the ad “cheap” and “pathetic.”
“Congresswoman Kirkpatrick needs to come out of hiding and talk to the people of Arizona to explain her longstanding support for Obama’s radical, liberal agenda. It’s too bad that her only accomplishment in office is being a rubber-stamp for this president,” McCain spokesperson Lorna Romero said in an email.
As Politico noted, some House Republicans are also increasingly looking to distance themselves from Trump’s rhetoric about women and minorities.
For example, Republican Rep. Bob Dold — who faces a tough reelection bid in a moderate district in the Chicago suburbs — preemptively denounced Trump’s comments about women and pledged not to support Trump in the general election.
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