During the last CNN debate in Arizona, the Republican presidential candidates were able to unanimously agree on one thing: their opposition to Barack Obama’s efforts to make employers cover contraception.
In the American two-party system, the Republicans and Democrats have been able to stake out partisan-based areas of “issue ownership” — meaning one party, through a history of effective handling of and attention to an issue, is seen as “owning” an issue.
The issue of contraception has become a hot button in national politics that crisscrosses party lines. Just today, a measure of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that “would have allowed employers and insurers to opt out of portions of the president’s health care law they found morally objectionable” was defeated in the U.S. Senate on a mostly party-line vote.
Traditionally, Republicans are seen as owning family values and morality. They have heavily depended on this ownership to cast their position on this matter. During the CNN debate when the topic came up, Mitt Romney said the debate about contraception is really about one question: “Are we going to have a nation which preserves the foundation of the nation, which is the family, or are we not?” Ron Paul said, “It’s the morality of society that we have to deal with.” Both of the candidates brought the issue of insurance coverage for contraception into their wheelhouse by focusing on how it affects society’s family values and morals.
Democrats, on the other hand, are seen as owning women’s issues and rights based on their support and deep involvement with the women’s movement. According to an Associated Press article, Democrats see the contraception debate and the recent effort by Blunt as “an assault on women’s rights.” Recently, Washington State Sen. Patty Murray said Obama’s mandate is about making contraception “more affordable under the new health care law.” She continued, “Our right-wing opponents continue to launch attack after attack against women’s rights, women’s health, and women’s economic security — and we’ve got to fight back every single day.”
It is not clear yet whether voters see the issue as one of family values or women’s rights, or both. Republicans and Democrats alike are hoping voters eventually see things their way.