WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat and Republican lawmakers are fervently pursuing a batch of doomed bills in the U.S. Congress in a bid to woo women whose votes could be decisive in the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
Recent votes on "pay equity" and family leave issues were aimed at women, who are increasingly crucial to Democrats' election hopes, and therefore worrisome to Republicans. Any shift in women's typical turnout or Democratic tilt this fall could determine tight elections, especially for the Senate.
Republicans need to gain six Senate seats to control the chamber, and women's issues are especially lively in the most contested states, including Colorado, North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana.
A Senate vote Wednesday on contraception legislation is the latest example of Democrats' win-by-losing strategy, which forces Republicans to vote on sensitive matters that might anger women.
Recent elections explain the fixation on female voters.
Women have outvoted men in every federal election since 1982. Female voters preferred Democrats by 11 percentage points in 2012, while men favored Republicans by 8 percentage points. But the voting rate among women, and especially single women, usually drops more than male voting in nonpresidential elections.
Both parties must cater to their ideological bases, even as they court women voters.
Nearly all Republicans are opposing measures that appear likely to expand abortion access, place new requirements on employers or limit religious conservatives' rights.
Democrats overwhelmingly support abortion access, worker benefits and equal treatment of women in the workplace.
Still, Democrats approached this week's birth control debate with different tactics, depending on whether they were seeking re-election in a Republican-leaning state or in a 50-50 or Democratic-leaning state.
Democrats knew Republicans would block their bill to counter the Supreme Court's recent ruling that said employers may exclude birth control products from their health insurance plans if the products violate the employers' religious faith.
Two Democrats who strongly campaigned against the court ruling centered on arts and crafts company Hobby Lobby are seeking re-election in states that President Barack Obama carried at least once, thanks in part to strong backing from women: Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Udall of Colorado.
Minutes after all but three of the Senate's 45 Republicans voted to block the Democrats' "Not My Boss' Business" bill, Udall said his party will continue to contest a ruling that says "a boss' beliefs can supersede a woman's rights to health care benefits that she has earned."
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, told reporters Thursday that Republicans have awakened "a sleeping giant" in the form of women who will dislike the party's actions on the matter.
Republican leaders said Democrats were misleading women by suggesting an employee could not buy birth control products even with her own money. Republicans promised to push legislation guaranteeing such access.
Other Democratic senators in tough re-election races were more cautious. Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana were among the few Democrats who did not co-sponsor their party's bill. Pryor has said he understands the "deeply held religious views" of those who brought the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, but he disagrees with the court's ruling.
Republicans try to turn the tables by pushing their own doomed initiatives, pitched as pro-women.
Female Republican senators say they want legislation to reinforce existing laws against workplace inequities. Those efforts have about as much chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate as the dozens of failed Republican bids to overturn the president's health care law, which Republicans portray as harmful to women.
Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.