How Democrats are trying to turn the Hobby Lobby loss into a political win

BY Domenico Montanaro  June 30, 2014 at 12:53 PM EST
Supporters of employer-paid birth control rally in front of the Supreme Court before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Supporters of employer-paid birth control rally in front of the Supreme Court before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There is no question that Monday’s Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision is a blow to the Obama administration and the Affordable Care Act.

But while conservatives celebrate the narrow 5-4 decision striking down the law’s contraception mandate for “closely held” companies with owners who have religious objections, ironically, the ruling could help Democrats fire up a key part of their base.

Democrats and women’s rights groups are already plotting how to use the case in this midterm and in the next presidential election.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a stark reminder of how important it is for Democrats to keep hold of the Senate,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. EMILY’s List tries to elect Democratic women to Congress. “When the future of our judiciary branch and women’s access to healthcare is at stake we need every woman to get out and vote in November.”

Democrats and women’s rights groups are already plotting how to use the case in this midterm and in the next presidential election.The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the group responsible for trying to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate, is already targeting Republicans in key races in North Carolina, Colorado, Montana, Arkansas and Michigan specifically.

“Today’s decision highlights just how much is at stake for women’s health care and contraception this fall, because nearly every Republican Senate candidate supports so-called Personhood legislation that goes much further in banning common forms of birth control,” Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in an email. “This will be a huge motivator for women in the fall and a liability for Republican candidates up and down the map. Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner, Steve Daines, Tom Cotton, Terri Lynn Land and others are very vulnerable on this.”

That was similar to another statement put out by the DSCC and forwarded by incumbent Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign in Colorado, a state where Democrats believe the difference between Udall’s policies and Rep. Gardner’s prior support for those “personhood” laws could drive a gender gap and fire up women.

As a congressman, Gardner co-sponsored the Life Begins at Conception Act that would define that life begins at fertilization, legislation that was similar to a ballot initiative that was soundly defeated in Colorado. Gardner did an about-face during this campaign because he said he did not realize that the legislation could mean banning certain kinds of contraception.

He called it a “a bad idea driven by good intentions,” in an interview with The Denver Post. He vowed to not support personhood going forward. He added, “I’ve learned to listen. I don’t get everything right the first time. There are far too many politicians out there who take the wrong position and stick with it and never admit that they should do something different.”

On the other side of this, Republicans are hailing the Supreme Court decision and using the court’s majority opinion to attack the health care law.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the decision “a victory for religious freedom and another defeat for an administration that has repeatedly crossed constitutional lines in pursuit of its Big Government objectives.”

He also called the Affordable Care Act “an unworkable mess,” “a drag on our economy,” and vowed to “repeal it and enact better solutions that start with lowering Americans’ health care costs.”

House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — the man who would be majority leader if Republicans net the six seats needed to take back control of the Senate this fall, and who is in a tough race for reelection — similarly praised the Supreme Court decision. He called the health care law “the single worst piece of legislation to pass in the last 50 years.”

The group tasked with trying to elect Republicans to the Senate, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, sees the Democratic messaging strategy as not much more than sour grapes.

“Liberal interests are once again using blatantly false scare tactics for political gain? SHOCKING,” wrote NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring in an email to PBS NewsHour. “The decision reinforces the widely held public opinion that ObamaCare is a flawed law that infringes on individual rights, freedoms, and religious liberty – plain and simple.”

There’s a reason that Democrats, however, feel they have an advantage on the issue. For starters, this isn’t about abortion – it’s contraception. And they have had success in drawing that line in the last two presidential elections and in down-ballot races.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from March found that a majority of Americans — 53 percent — didn’t think employers should be able to opt out of the contraception mandate, while 41 percent thought they should be allowed to do so.

Expect to hear a lot about this beyond the midterms as well. It will likely be one of the issues of the 2016 campaign, considering a president has the most direct impact, arguably, over foreign policy and the Supreme Court.

Whoever becomes president in 2016 will likely appoint two to three Supreme Court justices and could tip the high court’s balance on social policy. That point will be punctuated if Hillary Clinton runs for president with the potential to be the first woman president.

Still, it’s important to remember for the midterms that most of this election is being fought in red states, places Republicans have done very well in past national elections.

Running against the health care law has been the principal message for Republican candidates in those states, where Obama’s signature law is already unpopular. Don’t expect that to change.