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From the "war on women" to the war with women

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri October 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Democratic Party is launching a new initiative to attract women
  • The goal is to widen the advantage the Democrats have with women voters
  • The Republican Party knows it has work to do and has launched its own efforts

Washington (CNN) -- The Democratic Party is waging a battle. They want to take back the House in the 2014 midterms and maintain their majority in the Senate. And one political front is with women.

In recent years the Democratic Party has enjoyed a political advantage with women as more of them have voted for Democrats.

The Republican Party admits errors leading to success of female Democrats. For instance, in the last election, Republican candidates, including Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, marginalized women by espousing controversial opinions on rape and abortion.

The situation was so crippling that Republican leaders conducted an "autopsy" after the 2012 election to evaluate the party's shortcomings.

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The image of the white man is something the Republican Party is having trouble breaking.

Voters were reminded of the patrician perception just a couple of weeks ago during the government shutdown when House Republican leaders let the press in a meeting to take pictures as they worked. At the long table sat eight men in their shirtsleeves. Not one woman was present.

Those examples of images and statements make a difference at the voting booth.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's nine-point loss among women to President Barack Obama. Additionally, of the 81 women members of Congress, only 19 are Republican. The story is similar in the Senate.

But the Democrats aren't taking any chances. They don't want to lose their electoral advantage.

Last year, they attacked the Republicans' anti-choice, anti-Obamacare and anti-higher minimum wage policies as a "war on women."

This year they are launching a war with women.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, on Friday unveiled the Democratic Women's Alliance, a new initiative to "target, motivate and mobilize women" to vote and run for office.

And they are throwing money, resources and staff at the effort. They will conduct polls and gather data directed at women voters, find the forgotten women voters and train women to become involved or run for office.

It was rolled out at the 20th anniversary of the DNC's Women's Leadership Forum where House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke as did Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.

Republicans are "trying to reach out to women," Wasserman Schultz said in a hotel ballroom full of women activists.

"Isn't that adorable?" she smirked.

"Outreach is inserting themselves into the most private decisions women make," she added.

Wasserman Schultz's entire message wasn't about beating the Republicans. She said that when women sit at the table, they bring solutions.

"We understand the role of compromise. When we're at the table, government is more responsible," Wasserman Schultz told the audience, referring to the latest gridlock in Washington that partially shut down the government.

"Even with Sarah Palin involved, we could've struck an agreement," the Florida congresswoman said.

The return of Sarah Palin

Her goals, however, are still specific: Enroll more women into the Democratic Party.

Republicans admit that they have some work to do.

"We hurt ourselves," Republican National Committee spokes woman Kirsten Kukowski told CNN. "But we need to start fighting back on that narrative," she added.

The RNC has recently launched some of its own initiatives focused on women.

One of those programs is Blackboard to Blacktop, an education program to enhance women's role in the party.

In addition, Kurkowski said they must do a better job of pushing back against damaging rhetoric by their candidates.

"All of us need to do a better job," she said. "We're being much more conscious of it and tackling it every single day," she added.

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