Leading Off:• OH-Sen: GOP Sen. Rob Portman got a bunch of flak on Thursday, and rightly so, for saying that the public dollars that currently fund Planned Parenthood should instead go to “community health centers” that “provide the women’s health needs that are legitimate”—implying, of course, that Planned Parenthood’s services are not legitimate. Ridiculous, no doubt, but there’s something else worth analyzing here: the fact that a Republican senator facing a difficult re-election in a swing state is nevertheless running hard on defunding Planned Parenthood.
That might seem like a surprising move, given that polls consistently show Planned Parenthood is very popular with Americans. Indeed, no fewer than five polls released in just the last week have found opposition to defunding the group ranging from 52 percent to 65 percent, while support for the idea rests between 29 and 41 percent. Yet Portman, a savvy campaigner who has always been careful to avoid looking crazy, is all for it. What gives?
The one problem with issue-based polling is that it rarely gives you a sense of how intensely people feel about a given topic. An excellent example is guns: Background checks for gun buyers are enormously popular in poll after poll, but ardent firearms enthusiasts are so hostile to any and all regulations that their zealotry has blocked congressional action on the issue, despite the fact that they represent just a small minority.
Abortion rights often play out the same way: There are many single-issue voters out there who identify as “pro-life” and for whom nothing else matters; there are few on the pro-choice side who match that level of intensity. And that, in all likelihood, is the calculus Portman is relying on—after all, he’s seen all the polls that show voters preferring not to defund Planned Parenthood, and Ohio’s probably not too different than the nation as a whole on this score.
But the anti-Planned Parenthood brigades are fired up with terrifying passion and will do anything they can to destroy the organization, as the mendacious video jihad by the so-called “Center for Medical Progress” has shown. Portman is hoping to stoke this rage, and at the same time, he’s counting on those who like Planned Parenthood to simply not be motivated to the same degree. There’s a good chance he’s making the smart move politically.
This does not mean that Planned Parenthood is a loser of an issue for Democrats. Far from it. They should be completely unafraid to support and defend the group—again, it is still very well-liked and does enormously important work. But unless Portman has a very inaccurate read on his electorate, it does mean that, despite Planned Parenthood’s popularity, attacking the organization is not necessarily a loser for Republicans, and it may in fact motivate the conservative base more than it turns off those in the middle…..