Republicans, seeking to take advantage of a string of high-profile Democratic politicians' sex scandals, are taking a page out of their rivals' political playbook and claiming Democrats have launched a "war on women."
That's the phrase Democrats effectively used in the 2012 election, which led to an unprecedented 20 point gender voting gap, with President Barack Obama winning women voters over Republican rival Mitt Romney by 12 percent. Romney bested Obama among men by 8 percent.
Democrats had knocked Republicans for candidates who made offensive remarks about abortion and rape, as well as state level attempts to restrict access to abortions and opposition to the Affordable Care Act, particularly specific provisions that mandated contraception coverage, moves Democrats labeled as anti-women policies.
Now, Republicans see an opening, thanks to three highly publicized Democratic men with women problems. Anthony Weiner, the former New York congressman running for mayor of New York City, was forced to resign his House seat after sending sexually explicit messages to several young women despite being married with a pregnant wife; disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned after admitting he frequented prostitutes is running for comptroller of New York City; and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, a former Democratic congressman, has fled to a sex therapy center following accusations by nine women he sexually harassed them.
"When a Democrat candidate for mayor in the nation's largest city was caught — not for the first time – acting like an Internet predator and sending nude pictures to young women after repeatedly lying to his constituents, most Democrats said nothing," said a memo sent Friday by all top national Republican messaging groups, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican Governors Association, the Republican National Committee, the Republican State Leadership Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
"Last year, when radio host Rush Limbaugh called liberal activist Sandra Fluke an offensive term, Nancy Pelosi demanded that Republicans speak out," they wrote. "But when an individual currently serving on an actual Democrat campaign used precisely the same term and many more to disparage an intern, Pelosi didn't say a word. Nor did she speak out when two former members of her caucus…were discovered to be harassing and exposing themselves to women."
But Democrats are blowing off the Republican barbs.
"In 2012, Republicans' offensive rhetoric and extreme positions cost them the White House and numerous congressional races and it's clear they haven't learned their lesson," says Mike Czin, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "Republicans don't just have a message problem with women, they have a substance problem. Until they reverse course and change the policies that they're proposing they'll continue to lose the support of women voters at the local, state and national level."
Jennifer Lawless, director of American University's Women and Politics Institute, says in order reduce the gender voting gap Republicans need to do more than just paint their opponents in a negative light.
"There's a big difference between Democratic politicians' disservice to women in their private lives and advocating policies that hurt women all-around," she says. "Instead of saying, look the Democrats have a women problem, too, [Republicans] should be initiating public policies that could attract women voters."
And a top Democratic strategist also pointed out that there's plenty of cases of sexual misconduct found on both sides of the aisle - and while many Democrats have shunned Filner, Weiner and Spitzer, Republicans spent money to re-elect Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who was caught up in a high profile prostitute ring, as well as initially spent money on Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C. during his recent comeback. Sanford, while then governor, famously said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, but was instead visiting his Argentine mistress.