Republicans Use Birth Control as Campaign Wedge

by Stuart Rothenberg September 9, 2014 · 9:45 AM EDT

Politics is mostly about both parties regurgitating well-established positions (on taxes, the environment, abortion and spending, for example) to appeal to base voters and demonize their opponents. But every so often, candidates from one party try a dramatically new message.

That’s what is happening now in a number of swing districts and states, as a handful of Republicans have come out in favor of allowing contraceptives to be sold over the counter.

The position was initially taken by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in a December 13, 2012 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The End of Birth-Control Politics.” In the piece, Jindal said the use of birth control “is a personal matter — the government shouldn’t be in the business of banning it or requiring a woman’s employer to keep tabs on her use of it.”

At the end of his op-ed, the governor said that it was “hogwash” that Republicans were “against birth control and against allowing people to use it.”

In fact, the anti-abortion movement has tied birth control and abortion together in the past, so it is noteworthy that at least a handful of generally conservative Republicans who oppose legal abortion have started to embrace Jindal’s position on contraceptives.

The list includes at least four Senate hopefuls — Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner, Minnesota’s Mike McFadden, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and Virginia’s Ed Gillespie. In addition, Republican congressional hopeful Barbara Comstock has embraced the same position during her bid for a competitive Northern Virginia House seat.

While the evolution of the issue could alienate some social conservative voters, it would appear to have a much greater upside for the GOP hopefuls. Their position on contraception could soften their image with moderate voters, diluting some of the impact of Democrats’ “war on women” talking points among suburban swing voters.

Some GOP observers expect other Republicans in competitive states and districts – not in heavily conservative, ruby Red districts or states — to embrace Jindal’s argument as they attempt to woo key voters. If enough do it, they could help move the party in a way to make it more appealing to younger voters, as well as to moderates. And of course, it could create more friction inside the GOP, as well.