PI Original Adam Doster Wednesday October 6th, 2010, 2:42pm

The Battle For Women Voters (VIDEO)

Women consistently vote at higher levels than men in Illinois. Will Bill Brady scare too many away to keep his gubernatorial lead?

The battle for the governor's office is tightening in Illinois. If it remains close, women voters could have the final say in who serves as Illinois' chief executive.

Earlier this week, VotingWomen.org -- an organization that utilizes new voter contact technologies to mobilize female voters here -- released a report about voter turnout in Illinois. Using data compiled by the Illinois State Board of Elections, the group found that female voters outnumbered male voters in every age group during the midterm election cycle four years ago. That disparity widened two years later. Below is a spreadsheet we made comparing the figures:

Historically, Democrats have done well with this voting population, one reason the state has turned decidedly blue this decade. Exit polls from the 2006 gubernatorial race show that incumbent Rod Blagojevich trounced GOP nominee Judy Barr Topinka by 17 points (53 to 36 percent) among female voters. His advantage among male voters, on the other hand, was just three points.

Unfortunately for Democrats, women haven't always been fond of the party's current standard bearer, Gov. Pat Quinn. In a poll taken in late January, just days before the Democratic primary, Comptroller Dan Hynes led Quinn by 6 points among potential Democratic women voters. Only 36 percent of female respondents approved of Quinn's job performance at the time. Those struggles carried over into the spring. Rasmussen's first general election poll gave GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady a massive 17 point lead with likely female voters. Public Poilcy Polling's early surveys weren't much different.

The trend started to turn this summer. Brady's lead among ladies shrunk to 3 percent in June and then flipped entirely in July. The latest CNN/Time poll, which included all of the announced candidates and was taken in late September, had Quinn netting 39 percent of women voters and Brady holding down just 36 percent.

The Quinn campaign's repeated efforts to highlight Brady's social conservatism played a role in this shift. While Brady toned down his anti-abortion rhetoric on the stump, the Quinn folks launched television ads targeting women and dispatched lieutenant gubernatorial nominee Sheila Simon to speak about Brady's "extremism" statewide. The criticism is warranted; Brady opposes virtually all abortion rights (even in the case of rape or incest), stem cell research, paid family leave, and gender pay laws. He even voted against a voluntary breast and cervical cancer research fund check-off on the state's income tax fund. "He's the most right-wing gubernatorial candidate ever nominated by a major party," says Terry Cosgrove, President and CEO of Personal PAC.

Ironically, Independent gubernatorial candidate (and potential spoiler) Scott Lee Cohen could be making a difference, too. While anti-violence and women's groups have assailed Cohen for his history of violence and harassment, surveys that include him show he's likely stealing female supporters from Brady's camp. (In the CNN poll, for example, he earned 14 percent of the female vote.) And even if the media revisits Cohen's past indiscretions before Election Day, there's no guarantee those voters will ultimately make Brady their choice.

With just four weeks until the election, pro-choice groups are working feverishly on behalf of the Quinn campaign. "We're in with both feet and our entire bodies," says Pam Sutherland, Vice President for Public Policy with Planned Parenthood Illinois Action. Her group is running weekly phone banks in major cities across the state, focusing both on voter education and GOTV. In the districts where the group has endorsed a legislative candidate, members are doing targeted canvassing. Just yesterday, the organization protested Brady's fundraiser with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed state funding for family planning just last month.

Personal PAC isn't slouching, either. Already, they've sent a mailer critical of Brady to some 30,000 households. Several more are scheduled to go out in the next month. Just today, the group purchased a small ad buy in the Elgin area to run "Jennie's Story," which includes an interview with a rape victim. They are raising additional funds to place the spot in other locations. Watch it below:

Conservative women's groups are countering, sending out mail praising Brady for voting in favor of bills that increase day care access and assist family caregivers. "As a father and tireless legislator," one testimonial reads, "he understands my needs as a mother and taxpayer trying to provide for my family in this economy."

Sean Tenner with VotingWomen.org thinks women will turn out to the polls in droves once again, in part because the candidate's offer such a stark differences on social issues, a rarity in Illinois. Only time will tell if the message Quinn and his friends in the pro-choice community is pushing will stick. Cosgrove is confident. "I believe that when the people of Illinois find out how extreme [Brady] is," she told Progress Illinois, "he's going to be soundly rejected."

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