While Iraq tops the list of concerns for most Democrats, organizations
championing social agendas are hoping cultural issues such as
abortion and gay rights will gain traction among voters and help
shape the strategies of the party's presidential hopefuls.
The Democrats' capture of both the House and the Senate in 2006
generated speculation that the pendulum of national sentiment
may have swung in a liberal direction.
are about expanding opportunity for full participation in all
that America offers," said Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian
Victory Fund, a group that endorses gays, lesbians, bisexuals
and transgender persons for political office. "The race for
political success in America, at least at the presidential level,
is toward the middle, and the [social conservatives] have lost
For years, culturally conservative groups have used issues such
as gay marriage to rally their supporters on Election Day. Emboldened
by the success of 2006, Democrats are ready to try to frame the
debate in their own terms.
"The failure of 'gay marriage' as a national issue in the
2006 elections sends a message that the politics of division no
longer work," said Dison.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a political
action committee focused on ensuring women's reproductive rights,
said she believes voters are no longer mobilizing behind the more
hard-line approaches to cultural issues proposed by some Republicans
in the past.
"[In 2006] We saw a backlash against divisive attacks on
a woman's right to choose because President Bush and his allies
in Congress and in the states had overstepped and overreached,"
Keenan noted. "[Beginning with the Terri Schiavo feeding
tube case] Americans witnessed firsthand what it meant for politicians
to interfere in our personal, private medical decisions. Voters
are beginning to connect the dots. They see the same politicians
involved in the Schiavo case blocking stem cell research and undermining
women's reproductive freedom."
Members of the pro-choice group EMILY's List, which provides
money and guidance for pro-choice female candidates and works
to help elect Democrats, said after having won Congress, they
are now turning to the White House.
"Last [election] cycle, the American people decided that
enough was enough and that they wanted to change the way this
country was being run," said Ramona Oliver of EMILY's List.
"The 2006 election was a rejection of President Bush and
the Republicans who support the disastrous policies of his administration."
Activists plan to try to tap into these sentiments in the current
NARAL Pro-Choice America describes its electoral strategy for
2008 as "protect and elect," preserving pro-choice politicians
and working to elect more. But rather than framing abortion rights
as a national issue, groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America are
planning to focus their resources on specific voting blocks that
appear responsive to their message.
"As the election cycle unfolds, we will launch a strategic,
targeted effort to identify voters in specific races whom we can
move on choice," said Keenan. "It's about moving that
segment of voters that gets pro-choice candidates to the 50 percent
plus one they need to win."
Keenan pointed to the success of the targeted effort in 2006,
during which NARAL Pro-Choice America ran aggressive voter identification
and "get out the vote" operations in six congressional
races. Pro-choice candidates won in five of the districts, and
Keenan said abortion rights was a defining issue in the races.
She added that the appeal of pro-choice candidates crossed party
lines. "Post-election polling confirmed that this universe
of [targeted] voters, in particular Republican and independent
women, cited choice above all other issues, including the Iraq
war, as a reason to vote against an anti-choice candidate and
for a pro-choice candidate," she said.