Mark Udall may have just lost his U.S. Senate seat in Colorado, but he can still walk away with a rather remarkable honor—he just wrapped up what was probably America’s most supremely ironic political campaign. The man who sought to woo women everywhere ended up pushing many of them away. What was supposed to be one of the country’s closest races ended up being not so close after all, largely because Udall’s “birth control or bust” campaign backfired, big time.
By fixating almost exclusively on abortion, birth control, and reproduction, Udall aimed to win the votes of women, especially single, twenty-somethings like myself who vote Independent.
He ended up doing the opposite. Last night’s exit polls show that fewer women voted for Udall this year than did in 2008. He actually lost respect among the very demographic that helped carry him to Washington the first time.
For someone whose rallying cry was to end the “war on women,” his defeat sends an important message to candidates still to come: women don’t like to be treated as walking wombs. We do not appreciate being reduced to one body part. We don’t like being told that our uterus motivates our decisions more than our brains. And we don’t want candidates who insult our intelligence by suggesting that birth control is the only thing we care about.
A Pervert ‘Obsessed with My Uterus’
During the last few weeks across Colorado, I overheard women in Starbucks use the word “perverted” to describe Udall’s preoccupation with their reproduction. While on a walk, I heard two female joggers ask, “How much more obsessed with my uterus could Udall get?” And more than once over lunch, I saw women turn away from the restaurant’s television when Udall’s vicious, abortion-related ads aired. (Ironically enough, Mr. Abortion was only able to secure the vote of 60 percent of Coloradans who believe abortion should be legal.)
Most of his ads featured gynecologists or women talking about birth control and rape, but one ad from the pro-choice group NARAL sunk as low as to suggest that his opponent, Cory Gardner, wanted to ban condoms. This ad was so stunningly inaccurate and so embarrassingly bad that it was nominated by Bloomberg as one of the worst “Backfire Ads” of this election season.
Ads like those, which helped make Udall seem obsessed to the point of crazy, ended up costing him Colorado, for it was not just women who grew weary and ultimately disgusted with Udall. Over the last few months, the whole Centennial state began to creep away from the gynecological candidate. First, it earned him the pejorative nickname, “Mark Uterus,” which even Megyn Kelley almost slipped up and called him last night.
Heckled By His Own Team
Then, it motivated the left-of-center Denver Post to endorse Gardner because of Udall’s “obnoxious, one-issue campaign.” (This same newspaper, by the way, endorsed Barack Obama twice, and recently endorsed a Colorado Democrat for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state.)
Finally, in a moment that took the Udall campaign cake, Udall was heckled by one of his own multi-million-dollar donors during a recent speech. When Udall repeated his tired mantra, “I’m proud to stand for reproductive freedom,” he was met with an angry voice that yelled out, “That’s not all you stand for! Jesus Christ!” It may have been the only time in American political history when a candidate was interrupted, mid-speech, by one of his own angry donors.
Most of Colorado shared this sentiment. We grew tired of being yelled at about abortion over and over and over again. Most of us women wanted a representative who treated them with more respect. (Apparently, men weren’t too impressed, either—Udall won less than 40 percent of their vote.)
Many women were not Gardner cheerleaders, but we did not want to be the walking-talking-uterus fools that Udall acted as if we were. So now, as Colorado says good riddance to the darling of the birth-control industry, Udall’s ironic “pro-woman” campaign has left a valuable gift of a tip to future candidates: this is not the way to win women, but it was a surefire way to lose an entire state.