Missouri's Female Trouble
Meanwhile, the Bush camp is eagerly beckoning to women from the other side of the fence (Laura Bush hosted one of the first "W Stands for Women" events, in St. Louis on August 17). "Republicans have realized there are a lot of segments of this vote who can be theirs: married women, religious women, businesswomen," says Harriett Woods, a former lieutenant governor and guru of Democratic politics in Missouri.
Indeed, the partisan split is reflected in the record number of women running for statewide office here; among the six female candidates are Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who has a good shot at becoming governor, and two Republicans, one of whom, Catherine Hanaway, is a vocal, antichoice conservative. Says Woods, "The danger for Democrats has been to assume that if they turn out the women's vote, that's all they have to do."
To peel undecided female voters away from the Republicans, Woods suggests homing in on the issue of defense and highlighting the human toll of the war. "I'm convinced women really care about the1,000 people who will never come back from Iraq alive," she says. The war, which more women than men nationwide believe has made us less secure by a margin of 8 percentage points, clearly nags at some women swing voters in this state, where military participation is high.
"I just don't know who to support," says one woman as she leans out the door of her split-level ranch in the suburban St. Louis neighborhood of Concord-Village. "I voted for Bush last time, but I feel like he just went to war as soon as he could," she says, looking distraught. So why not vote for Kerry? "I'm religious," she says with a significant frown.
Sarah London, a political organizer for AFSCME in St. Louis, speaks to such conflicted women every day as she walks neighborhoods campaigning for Democratic state legislative candidates. While the women who open their doors to London often warm to the legislators she promotes when told they support stem-cell research and increased funding for education and oppose the right to carry concealed weapons, many let the issue of abortion decide whom they'll vote for. "I've never heard more women say, 'I vote a straight pro-life ticket,'" says London.
Abortion is the live, painful wire running through Missouri politics. Even though a majority of Missourians are pro-choice--according to a poll conducted by Planned Parenthood in March, 57 percent of the state's registered voters want to keep abortion legal--the religious right controls the debate. Many Missourians--whether because they truly think abortion is murder, because their church says it's evil or because openly supporting a woman's right to end a pregnancy will lose them friends--are terrified of the issue. So are their elected officials: Almost half of Democrats serving in the state legislature now vote anti-choice. And legislators here often tack abortion-related amendments onto unrelated bills as a way to kill them.
In fact, there is little any legislator can do to further limit abortions here, since virtually every possible restriction is already in place: Parental consent is required for minors, as is a twenty-four-hour waiting period before abortions. And a Missouri legislative statute defines life as beginning at conception. Meanwhile, the state attorney general is appealing a ruling that struck down a statewide ban on some abortions, despite the fact that such bans have repeatedly been ruled unconstitutional. Taken together, the state's antiabortion efforts garnered Missouri one of eighteen "F's" from NARAL, which issues state reproductive rights report cards.