Politics

XX marks the spot? Charlie Crist campaigning on abortion, equal pay, birth control

Emboldened by Democrats’ success with women voters, Charlie Crist’s campaign has teamed up with Planned Parenthood to target Gov. Rick Scott over abortion, birth control and Medicaid expansion.

On Tuesday, Crist’s campaign touted its newest TV ad that seeks to paint the Republican incumbent as “extreme” for signing multiple laws restricting abortion rights and for saying he opposes the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling.

“Rick Scott’s devastating policies have left women without a representative fighting for them in Tallahassee,” Crist’s running mate, Annette Taddeo, said on a conference call with Planned Parenthood, which is reaching out to hundreds of thousands of like-minded voters to help Crist’s campaign.

Scott’s campaign and the Republican Party of Florida wouldn’t comment. But a top Scott surrogate, Miami state. Sen. Anitere Flores, said the Democrats are misconstruing Scott’s record and what’s important.

Flores, a Republican who backed all the abortion bills Scott has signed since 2011, sponsored the 2014 legislation that restricts abortions after about the 20th week of pregnancy, when a fetus or baby can be considered “viable” by a physician.

“This issue isn’t anti-woman. This is about a new life,” Flores said. “Technology and medical advances have gotten to the point to say this baby, this fetus is alive. And the courts have ruled that a state has a compelling interest in protecting the child, protecting the life of the unborn.”

That so-called “viability” legislation received far less attention than a 2011 law Scott signed requiring women to receive an ultrasound prior to an abortion. Crist vetoed nearly identical legislation the year before, after he left the GOP and ran unsuccessfully as an independent for U.S. Senate.

Crist has had mixed positions on abortion, calling himself “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” depending on the political climate and his registration. He has generally favored abortion rights over restrictions.

Now, as a Democrat, Crist says he’s entirely supportive of abortion rights.

Democratic strategists see abortion — once considered more of a motivator for Republicans — as a top energizing issue for women voters, especially single women. By 26 percentage points, unmarried Florida women voters in 2012 backed President Obama, who made abortion and birth control major issues.

Unmarried women were also a likely key to defeating a proposed Florida constitutional amendment limiting abortion. It failed 45-55 percent at the polls — thereby falling 15 percentage points short of meeting the 60 percent threshold needed for passage.

More broadly, women voters backed Obama and the 2010 Democratic candidate for governor Alex Sink — a woman — by 7 percentage points each over their Republican rivals, Mitt Romney and Scott. Romney and Scott, respectively, won the male vote by 6 and 12 percentage points.

The Crist campaign hopes to get a larger share of the female vote to counteract the possible advantage that Scott might have with men.

Polls indicate that Scott and Crist are about tied, with the Republican likely holding a small advantage that’s inside the surveys’ aggregated margins of error.

On the same day Crist’s campaign released its ad, the abortion-rights group Emily’s list released a poll of battleground states, including Florida, indicating that voters who tend to drop off during mid-term elections such as this one would be more motivated to vote after hearing the type of message that Crist’s campaign and Planned Parenthood are touting. The survey was conducted by Crist’s pollster, John Anzalone.

Crist’s campaign is also trying to make Medicaid expansion a top issue for women and minorities, who would benefit most from the health-insurance program.

Scott initially called for Medicaid expansion but then did nothing to push the issue when the Republican-led state House refused to consider it.

Crist’s campaign has also accused Scott of supporting an employer’s right to deny contraceptive coverage to women, but neither could back up the claim. Scott’s campaign wouldn’t comment.

Crist and Taddeo have also criticized Scott for his veto of $1.5 million to fund 30 rape crisis centers — a decision he made in 2012 in the midst of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“Who vetoes money for rape-crisis centers?” Taddeo asked. Scott wouldn’t explain his veto when asked, though a spokesman at the time said the state was already providing the services, which advocates denied.

If elected, the Democrats say, their administration will issue an executive order calling for equal pay between men and women.

But Scott’s campaign and his running mate, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, say there’s no need for the order because state law, 448.07, already calls for equal pay for equal work.

“I know it took Charlie three times to pass the Florida Bar, but he’s an attorney,” Lopez-Cantera said at a campaign stop earlier this summer when Crist raised the issue. “He should know that that’s in law.”

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