Maine Political Parties Battle for Women Voters
The race for the governor is increasingly focusing on the women's vote. Earlier this week, Planned Parenthood released an ad in support of Democrat Mike Michaud and criticizing Republican Gov. Paul LePage. On Friday, Gov. LePage appeared with female supporters at an event in Scarborough, where he was asked about his record on women's issues. The governor himself could not recall a key vote on family planning.
As busy Route One traffic roared by, Gov. Paul LePage stood in the parking lot of the Hillcrest Retirement Community, flanked by women - about three dozen of them - mostly dressed in red. He said his issues are their issues: combating domestic violence, reducing energy costs and improving the economy.
"And that's what these folks need and want, is somebody who's going to move us forward," he said to applause.
Republican state Rep. Heather Sirocki organized the event. She says she wanted to show that there are a lot of women who support the governor. "We have a big tent here," she said. "We have a variety of views on a variety of issues. But I think everyone can agree that having a stronger, healthier, vibrant economy is really important. And services for our frail and elderly and disabled population is extremely important, and that there is zero tolerance for domestic violence."
This event comes just three days after Planned Parenthood released an ad critical of the governor's health care policies.
Audio from ad: "Paul LePage's history of denying access to basic health care is disturbing."
The ad features several Maine women, and alludes to the governor's veto of a bill, LD 1247, the Women's Health Initiative.
Audio from ad: "...and vetoed cancer screenings and birth control for thousands of women."
Today, reporters asked the governor about that veto. "I don't remember anything about vetoing family planning, but I'll look at it," he said.
This is not the first time the governor has been asked about this ad. On Tuesday, he told reporters that he thinks Planned Parenthood is wrong: "And this is my position on Planned Parenthood. Do the right thing. The State of Maine has more people dying than being born. Do the right thing," he said.
When asked to clarify what he meant by "do the right thing," the governor said this: "What I'm against is killing babies as a form of contraception. That's what I'm against."
Nicole Clegg of Planned Parenthood says most Mainers support reproductive choice - 68 percent, according to a survey Planned Parenthood did this year.
"We've had a governor in office who has been hostile to reproductive health issues, who's cut access to family planning services, who vetoed the Women's Health Initiative, who vetoed the expansion of Medicaid five times," Clegg says. "It's clear to us we've never had the stakes as high in Maine as this year."
Clegg believes women's health and reproductive rights will be critical issues for women this election year. USM Political Science Professor Ron Schmidt agrees.
"It's significant," Schmidt says. "I mean, it's lodged among much larger issues about health care and autonomy, which are important issues to women voters nationally and in Maine. This was an issue in the 2012 election also."
It's estimated that 53 percent of the voters in Maine are women. Which issues motivate the greatest number of them may very well decide the race for governor.
"Women are definitely going to be a key factor in this race," Schmidt says. "And once the race is over, I think whoever it is that wins and is the next governor should be very conscious of that."