Ever since President Obama's announced a so-called "accommodation" to Obamacare's new contraception and abortifacient mandate on February 10, Democrats have believed the issue is a surefire winner for them--especially in liberal Massachusetts. In radio ads, op-eds, and interviews, Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren cast Republican senator Scott Brown as an extremist for supporting a conscience exemption to the mandate. "She revamped her entire campaign for the last three weeks to orient it around this issue and took on the mold of a social warrior," a Brown campaign official tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
The mandate dominated news for the month of February, but polls show that Warren's contraception war hasn't worked out as planned.
Even the Boston Globe has taken notice. "[I]f several of the recent polls are correct, Brown may have benefited from his positions on social issues in the last few weeks, such as the one over whether Catholic institutions should be forced to provide contraception in their health care plans for workers," Globe staff writer Frank Phillips reports.
Phillips noted that a "new poll released over the weekend by the Western New England University Polling Institute in partnership with The Republican newspaper of Springfield found Brown leading Warren, his top Democratic challenger, 49 to 41 percent. That closely reflects several other surveys taken in the last month that also show Brown with a lead. In a handful of previous polls, Warren had led Brown, or come within the margin of error, while Brown’s favorability ratings appeared to be slipping."
The fact that Democrats have failed to score points on the mandate in the most liberal state in the country should be an encouraging sign for opponents of the mandate. But polls show that support for the mandate depends almost entirely on how the question is worded, and other Republicans may need to work as hard as Brown to keep Democrats from defining the terms of debate.
Rather than running from his support for a conscience exemption, Brown hit back with equal force in his own ads, op-eds, and interviews. Brown said that Warren wants to "use the power of government to force Catholics to violate the teachings of their faith" and pointed out Ted Kennedy had been a champion of conscience exemptions.
Ray Flynn, a Democrat who served served as Boston's mayor for a decade before serving as Bill Clinton's ambassador to the Vatican, came to Brown's defense last week. "I find it outrageous that anyone in a position of public trust would trample on the conscience of people of religious beliefs," Flynn wrote in a letter. He commended Brown's "steadfast leadership" and added, "I intend to tell anyone who will listen how you stood tall in protecting the human and civil rights of everyone."
It would be a great surprise if the polls don't tighten in Massachusetts--Barack Obama is leading potential opponents by 20 points in the state. And despite Brown's 5-point win in January 2010, the state didn't elect a single Republican to Congress the following November. But for now, it seems Elizabeth Warren's attack on the conscience exemption has either proven to be a dud at best or backfired at worst, just as a similar attack by Martha Coakley backfired in 2010.