"A lot of California women don't know Fiorina very well," said EMILY's List communications director Jen Bluestein. "Once they know more, it's a lot easier to make these distinctions."
In Nevada, Reid and tea party favorite Angle are running neck and neck in the polls. Unlike most of his Democratic colleagues, Reid opposes elective abortions but believes they should be allowed in cases of rape and incest. He has run ads painting himself as more reasonable on the issue than Angle.
In one such ad, a narrator suggests that "extreme" is the appropriate word for a candidate who "says a teenage rape victim should be forced to have the baby."
Angle has strived to convey her views in gentler terms — in one interview, she suggested pregnant teens could turn "a lemon situation into lemonade" by not having an abortion. In another interview, after saying there should be no exceptions for rape and incest, she added, "I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations."
Nationwide, the economy and health care appear to be the priorities for most voters, but polls indicate interest in the abortion debate among conservative evangelicals — a key part of the GOP base — is far higher than among the public at large.
"There's a lot of intensity in this issue, even if it isn't the hot topic now," said Dannenfelser. She credited Palin with inspiring anti-abortion Republican women to mount campaigns and described this fall's field as "the defining moment we've been waiting for."
Rival advocacy groups have chimed in with endorsements in other races featuring Republican candidates opposed to abortion and Democrats who favor abortion rights. They include GOP challenges to incumbent Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and Patty Murray in Washington; the Senate race in Missouri between Democrat Robin Carnahan and Republican Roy Blunt; the Pennsylvania Senate race between Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey; and two woman-vs.-woman congressional races — incumbent Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., against Democratic challenger Tarryl Clark, and incumbent Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., against GOP challenger Kristi Noem.