Hambycast: New front in war on women

Is New Hampshire about to get nasty?
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Story highlights

  • Jeanne Shaheen releases a campaign ad hitting Scott Brown's record on abortion
  • Brown identifies as a "pro-choice independent Republican"
  • Shaheen leads Brown by 6 points in latest poll
The war over women arrived in New Hampshire this week -- in the form of a press release.
"New Shaheen Campaign Ad Highlights Scott Brown's Anti-Choice Record and Extreme Bill He Introduced," reporters were informed Tuesday morning by email, just hours before Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was to host a women's-themed campaign event in Derry.
Shaheen's ad is a brutal one -- particularly against someone who is a self-proclaimed "pro-choice independent Republican." In ominous tones, the ad reveals that when he was a state legislator in Massachusetts, the state Brown used to live in and later represented in the U.S. Senate, he backed a bill that would "force women considering abortion to look at color photographs of developing fetuses."
Though Democrats in tough races nationwide have been running on women's issues for the better part of a year, the message had not taken center stage in New Hampshire's Senate race until this week. The shift foreshadows what could be a rough and tumble end to election season in this typically tranquil New England state.
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Brown is less vulnerable to the "war on women" attack than other down-the-line conservative Republicans -- one reason the issue is only now surfacing in the race. Beyond his pro-choice stance, he has broken with his party by supporting the Violence Against Women Act and funding for Planned Parenthood.
But Shaheen's new offensive struck a nerve, forcing Brown to throw together a slapdash press conference to respond to her "despicable attacks." He was thrown off-message on a day when he was supposed to be talking about foreign policy and tying Shaheen to President Obama and his in-the-dumps poll numbers. The next morning, Brown went up with a defensive television ad stressing his support for abortion rights and accusing the senator of running a "smear campaign."
Shaheen, a cunning, no-holds-barred campaigner despite her pleasant demeanor, is leaving nothing to chance as she clings to a steady single-digit lead in a treacherous political environment for Democrats.
In the latest poll of the race this week, from WMUR and the University of New Hampshire, Shaheen led Brown by 6 points, but she was topping out at 47%: the under-50 danger zone for any incumbent. But she has a healthy 15-point advantage among likely women voters, and is doing everything she can to keep it that way.
"You get the sense this race could turn at just a moment's notice," said James Pindell, the always-on political director at Manchester television station WMUR. Pindell was joining me for a slice of pepperoni at Romano's Pizza in Derry for this week's episode of "Hambycast."
"The race seems to be primed for that," Pindell said. "It gets all the attention in this state. This state has got four major races. We have two congressional races and a competitive governor's race. But all people talk about is Shaheen and Brown, every single day."
At her lone campaign event Tuesday, inside a Derry-based food incubator called Creative Chef Kitchens, Shaheen rattled through a laundry list of female-focused issues she supports — equal pay, access to contraception, abortion rights — as a small crowd of women nodded in approval.
The message was heavy-handed and impossible to miss, but Shaheen put an exclamation point on it just in case: "Scott Brown," she said, "is being disingenuous when he says he is pro-choice."
Reporters surrounded her after her appearance. One asked her why she waited until October to thrust women's issues into the campaign, using "probably the most negative ad of the campaign."
Shaheen has highlighted the topic before, memorably in July, after Brown hid in a restaurant bathroom when a reporter asked him about the Supreme Court's controversial decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby that allowed corporations to deny birth control coverage in their insurance plans.
But her campaign had not put money behind a television ad on women's health before, particularly such a blistering one.
"I think this is something that we planned to talk about all along," Shaheen responded. "I think access to health care, access to reproductive choice is critical to women. I've worked on it my entire career. This is an issue that is important to women and families. Ninety-nine percent of women use contraceptives at some point in their lives."
Then I asked Shaheen about Brown's topic of choice: President Obama, whose disapproval ratings in New Hampshire approach 60%. What is it about him, exactly, that Democrats are so wary of?
Shaheen would rather not talk about Obama, which is why Brown spent their first one-on-one debate on Monday reminding voters that the senator has voted with the president "99% of the time."
It's one reason he has seized on the ascendancy of ISIS, the terrorist group roiling Syria and Iraq, and border security. National security is becoming a winning talking point, Republican operatives here argue, claiming it scores points among the very women Shaheen is trying to keep in her fold.
"There is a leadership void," Brown said at an event Tuesday in Derry, where he was joined by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a foreign policy hawk and potential presidential candidate in 2016. "Our allies don't trust us, and our foes don't fear or respect us."
Like Republican candidates across the country, Brown wants the race to be about national issues. Shaheen does not, so she brings up another sore point for Brown: his decision to sell his home in Massachusetts last year and move to the Granite State to run for Senate. Brown is not exactly a carpetbagger -- he's long owned property in New Hampshire and many thousands of people have moved here from somewhere else thanks to the low tax rates — but it's still a reliable campaign jab.
"This race is not about President Obama," Shaheen said. "This race is about Scott Brown and me. I know that Scott Brown would like to be running against the President, because he has not done anything in New Hampshire, he doesn't have a history here, he just moved here. I have spent my entire professional life here in New Hampshire."