POLITICS

York: Voters fret about economy, Dems focus on abortion

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Politics,Byron York,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

"This election, to me, is about which candidate is more likely to return us to full employment," says former President Bill Clinton in a new ad released by the Obama campaign. Most voters would agree, at least if one believes countless polls that show the economy and jobs are the nation's top concern.

So why are Democrats planning to make their convention a celebration of abortion and gay marriage? The Obama campaign has given a new and prominent surrogate role to Sandra Fluke, the former Georgetown law student and full-time lefty activist who achieved notoriety after Rush Limbaugh called her a bad name because of her energetic promotion of taxpayer-financed contraception.

This week, Fluke's role has been to attack Republicans over Rep. Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" statement. "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan tried to distance themselves from the remark," Fluke wrote in an Obama campaign email, "but the fact is they're in lockstep with Akin on the major women's health issues of our time."

Fluke is just one part of the Democrats' plan to target Akin and the GOP on abortion. The Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard writes that the Democratic convention is becoming an "anti-Akin affair," with party leaders lining up NARAL Pro-Choice America's Nancy Keenan, Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards, the actress Eva Longoria, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, in addition to Fluke, to highlight "women's issues" in Charlotte.

There will be a lot of talk about abortion, all of it from one side. But not all Democrats agree with Fluke and her fellow speakers when it comes to abortion; in May of this year, Gallup found 34 percent of Democrats identify themselves as pro-life. And, perhaps more important to President Obama's re-election prospects, 47 percent of independents describe themselves as pro-life.

Why would a party that wants to attract the largest possible number of votes this November make such extravagant pronouncements on abortion, knowing that one-third of its own members and nearly one-half of independents disagree?

And that's just abortion. Democrats have already decided to make support for gay marriage a plank in the party's platform. The party's 15-member platform drafting committee unanimously voted to do so last month after hearing testimony from advocates of gay marriage. They did not invite any opponents of gay marriage to testify, suggesting that when it comes to writing a platform, the Democratic process is not entirely democratic.

According to the most recent Gallup poll on the matter, 65 percent of Democrats believe gay marriage should be legal, while 34 percent believe it shouldn't. A full 40 percent of independents believe gay marriage should not be legal. And the Democrats are holding their convention in a swing state, North Carolina, where voters recently approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The rational design behind all this is that Barack Obama can't be re-elected without winning big among women. The newest Gallup polling shows equal gender gaps: Mitt Romney leads the president 50 percent to 42 percent among men, while the president leads Romney 50 to 42 percent among women. It's a gap that has been consistent for months now, and Obama hopes to eke out a victory by making a few more women nervous about voting Republican in the last weeks of the campaign. "The Obama campaign believes that college-educated women, and the margin the president could win among them, will decide the election," says a well-informed Democratic strategist not connected to the campaign.

But not all of this is a rational calculation. If you stand on the floor of a Democratic convention when a speaker is discussing abortion, you can feel the depth of the emotion that many Democrats feel on the issue. Conservatives like to say abortion is a liberal sacrament. Maybe that's going too far, but it is very, very important. And when something means so much to a group of people, they can easily convince themselves that it means that much to others, too.

Meanwhile, the voters continue to say, overwhelmingly, that they want their president to focus on the economy and job creation. By choosing to spotlight abortion and gay marriage at their national convention, Democrats could give voters the impression that they've got their priorities all mixed up. Sandra Fluke may draw headlines, but does she really represent what voters think is most important?

Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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