Attacks on Planned Parenthood Could Create Dicey Situation for Colorado’s GOP Candidates

Colorado Republicans will at best see a neutral response by general-election voters and at worst face a serious backlash in next year’s election as a result of their continued attacks on Planned Parenthood, political analysts say.

Colorado Republicans will at best see a neutral response by general-election voters and at worst face a serious backlash in next year’s election as a result of their continued attacks on Planned Parenthood, political analysts say. Shutterstock

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Colorado is again expected to be a key battleground state for both state and national races next year, which raises the question: How will the continued attacks on Planned Parenthood, including the recent demand by 30 GOP state lawmakers for an investigation of the women’s health organization, affect Colorado candidates in the 2016 election?

The stakes are high. Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the Colorado Senate, and two of the Senate Republicans who’ve called for a Planned-Parenthood investigation, state Sens. Tim Neville and Laura Woods, are considered vulnerable.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who voted against defunding Planned Parenthood last month, is defending one of only two U.S. Senate seats deemed as potential pickups by Republicans. The vote to defund the women’s health-care organization came after a series of heavily edited videos attempted to raise questions about the group’s links to fetal tissue research.

Anti-choice Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who slammed Planned Parenthood in July and will likely vote soon on a bill to strip federal funding from the organization, is facing a tough re-election campaign against pro-choice Democrat Morgan Carroll in a district that’s again expected to be one of the most hotly contested in the country.

“The line too far for Republicans is to defund,” said Jennifer E. Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report, citing as an example politically “detrimental” defunding efforts by Republicans in Utah.

“Right now, to conduct just an investigation is fairly neutral,” she told Rewire. “It’s opposed by the pro-choice community, and supported by the pro-life side. And there are people who support choice who believe Planned Parenthood could stand more scrutiny.”

“This is not to say the Democrats won’t try to use it in the election. Of course they will,” Duffy said, adding that she’d expect to see it first in fundraising efforts and possibly later in a public context.

Asked if Republicans in Colorado will benefit from GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood, Robert Loevy, professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College, said images and tactics used in attack videos made by the Center for Medical Progress—an anti-choice front group with ties to violent anti-choice activists—constitute nothing new politically.

Those kinds of pictures have been around for years. All this does is polarize the issue statewide,” Loevy said. “And the issue favors the Democrats.”

“If you’re talking statewide, the effects will be negative for Republicans,” Loevy said. “The Republican Party is divided on social issues, like abortion. It is not a winning issue statewide. When candidates emphasize it, they tend to lose statewide.”

Loevy continued: “The problem is, in Republican caucuses and primaries, opposing Planned Parenthood is a winning issue. There will always be Republicans who want to use social issues to get elected in small areas, but that will always hurt statewide candidates who have that albatross around their neck.”

“Given what we know at this point, it seems to me that Planned Parenthood is the wrong organization for Republicans to go after, because it has a great deal of good will,” said Norman Provizer, professor of political science at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Overall, from a political perspective, I think it’s an act of desperation to find a battle you think you might win after a long string of losses on the social issues front. But it’s the wrong organization to go after.”

“It is going to highlight the women’s issue again, which could be damaging to Republicans,” continued Provizer, emphasizing that explosive new information about Planned Parenthood could change the political calculus involved. “We learned in last year’s senate election that an overemphasis on women’s issues is not enough. But in combination with other issues, I would not be dismissive of it.”

Political analyst Floyd Ciruli sees little risk for Republicans in attacking Planned Parenthood, at least for now.

“The abortion issue is controversial for Republicans,” Ciruli told Rewire. “It often works well for their base and primary voter, and it works less will with the general public.”

Ciruli said Republican candidates have no reason to relent in attacks on reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood as they appeal to the party’s staunchly anti-choice base.

“Planned Parenthood looks like it’s on the defensive. So, at the moment, there is very little downside for Republicans, because they are talking to their base. And the general public, if they are following it at all, are saying Planned Parenthood messed up.”