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Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Key To N.H. Dems Midterm Election Strategy

Emily Corwin for NHPR

Top Democrats rallied volunteers and worked the phones Monday in Portsmouth. Their goal was to call attention to the US Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby” ruling, which found a closely held company could not be forced to pay for all birth control procedures required by the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats hope Supreme Court rulings like the Hobby Lobby and the striking down of Massachusetts’s abortion clinic buffer zone law will motivate women voters, helping the party overcome certain challenges.

First, this is a midterm election, a time when the party of the president almost always starts off with a disadvantage. Add to that the President’s approval ratings are down. So – says UNH Pollster Andy Smith - it makes sense to campaign on issues women care about. “Democrats have about a 10 percentage point or more gap among women than they do among men.”  In fact, he says, recent polls show in the top of the ticket race puts New Hampshire men splitting their vote evenly between Republican primary candidate Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen, “but Shaheen has a plus 26% advantage over Brown with women.”

Rallying women helped propel Obama back into office in 2012, and boosted Democrats all the way down the ticket.  If Susan O’Brian of Portsmouth is any indication, the tactic could work again. O’Brian says she can’t remember the last time she pitched in at a political event. A friend, she says, convinced her to show up today.

“I was younger when Roe vs. Wade was decided, I thought that was decided.  I was young when you couldn’t get birth control pills, I thought that was decided. It’s astounding to me, the things [that were decided] when I was a young adult woman have now become so at risk.”

Congressman Carol Shea Porter and Senator Jeanne Shaheen are sponsoring bills to undo the Hobby Lobby ruling, neither of which are set to be put to a vote before the election. But back in NH, it doesn’t look like the Hobby Lobby ruling will make much difference. That’s because New Hampshire already has a law mandating businesses include contraception in employees’ health insurance.

The state’s Insurance Department has said Hobby Lobby won’t interfere with this law.  House Speaker  Terie Norelli cosponsored the bill, which became law in 1999. “It has no religious exemption,” she says, and “for 15 years there have been no complaints here in New Hampshire.”

Norelli says it’s critical for Democrats to turn women out to vote. Chair of Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman-Schultz headlined the phone banking event.  She clearly agrees, calling on women to go all out before November. “Each of us has to rap on those doors until our knuckles bleed,” Wasserman-Schultz told the crowd of women, “we have to make sure our ears go numb from the number of phone calls that we’ve made.”

Undeclared voters in New Hampshire: you’ve been warned.   

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