The worst-kept secret on Capitol Hill is that neither party expects major legislation to pass before the election. The agenda is instead being driven by messaging imperatives aimed at appealing to key voting blocs that could swing the outcome on Election Day.
To that end, Democrats have worked hard to paint Republicans as hostile to the interests of women, Hispanics and young voters — and the GOP is hoping to contain or reverse the damage without aggravating conservatives in their base.Women
Ever since they botched a battle with Democrats over guaranteed access to contraception, Republicans have abandoned their push to repeal the administration’s requirement that employer-provided insurance plans cover birth control without copays. The party’s earlier efforts to paint Obama’s contraception mandate as anti-religion spiraled out of control and coincided with Democrats expanding their advantage among women voters. The gap has since narrowed.
Later, in a rare move, Senate Republicans opted not to filibuster a Democratic-led bill to reauthorize and expand the Violence Against Women Act, a popular anti-domestic-abuse package. In response, House Republicans devised and passed its own scaled-down version. The competing bills have yet to be reconciled, and in the meantime, Republicans are working to rebut Democratic attacks over their refusal to expand coverage to illegal-immigrant, LGBT and Native American women.
Democrats succeeded in putting Republicans on the defensive again last week by pushing legislation aimed at ending the gender pay gap. Senate Republicans blocked the bill — a move that has them again fending off claims that they’re waging a “war on women.”
Earlier this year, Republicans voted overwhelmingly for a budget that would let student loan interest rates double for some 7 million young adults in July. But they pulled an about-face in April after Romney sided with Obama on the issue. The two parties have since been at an impasse over how to pay for a one-year freeze in the existing 3.4 percent rate, but are slowly narrowing their differences. In keeping with the demographics theme, Democrats say the Republican plan to pay for the freeze includes spending cuts that would harm women’s health.
After spending years pledging to destroy ‘Obamacare’ in its entirety, top Republicans are publicly touting their support for pieces of the law — most notably the provision that lets young adults remain on a parent’s insurance plan until 26. It’s no coincidence that 6.6 million eligible voters have directly benefited from that provision.
As part of their outreach to the nation’s fastest growing demographic, Republicans are attacking Obama for failing to follow through on immigration reform, a key issue for Latino voters. They’re obscuring their own hostility to immigration and persistent obstruction of Democratic bills to help illegal immigrants, such as the DREAM Act.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is crafting his own scaled-back version of the DREAM Act, for which Republican elders are cautiously praising him. Rubio is using his still-unreleased proposal to turn the tables on Democrats, blaming Obama for its likely failure in the GOP-controlled House. He says the plan would grant legal status — without the promise of citizenship — to some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
So will the GOP’s face-saving efforts work?
Among women, at least, the Democrats’ advantage has been reduced since Romney secured the nomination. Hispanics and young voters — neither of whom are particularly enthusiastic about voting in this election — continue to favor Democrats in huge numbers. Part of the challenge, as Republicans are realizing, is that they can only go so far in courting these constituencies without angering their conservative base.
Republicans aren’t likely to win any of these voting blocs on Election Day. But they also realize that if they succeed at damping turn out or making narrow inroads, it could mean the difference between victory and defeat on Nov. 6.