Democrats outdo Republicans at convincing women to vote for them, but GOP candidates hold even larger advantages among men in several key Senate races — a flip side of the voting gender gap that favors Republicans but isn't often spoken of.
In an election where social issues being discussed tend to focus more on women, such as access to contraception and equal-pay laws, it's not surprising the female side of the gender gap is getting the attention.
But the male side is what's keeping Republicans in some close races.
Take Massachusetts, where a UMass-Lowell/Boston Herald poll last week showed Sen. Scott P. Brown with a 20-point advantage among male voters, while Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren led among women by less than half that. In Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon held a 12-point lead among men in a recent Quinnipiac poll, while female voters preferred Rep. Christopher S. Murphy by four points.
And in Montana, a Mason-Dixon poll released Monday shows Republican Denny Rehberg and Sen. Jon Tester virtually tied on the gender gap, with Mr. Rehberg holding a 14-point lead with men, compared with Mr. Tester's 13-point lead among women.
Analysts said the female side of the gender gap gets more attention in part because women tend to make up their minds later in the campaign season and are seen as persuadable, and in part because it's easier to identify and campaign on "women's issues" than it is to come up with decidedly male stances.
"If three people vote and two people vote for me, why do I care," John Petrocik, chairman of the University of Missouri's political science department, said. "[Democrats] can win elections with a gender gap and if it can be spun as what do the women have against you anyway, why bother about the men?"
Forcing Republicans into a defensive posture on women is exactly what Democrats need to keep doing, rather than trying to make gains with men, said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University.
"The Democrats need to make the gender gap as big as they possibly can," Ms. Lawless said. "Republicans seem to have accepted the fact that they're not going to close the gender gap this time around."
The gender gap does work both ways, and has left Democrats with the upper hand in Senate races like Virginia, where Tim Kaine has a much stronger grip on female voters than his GOP opponent George Allen has on male voters.
But in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Montana, where Republicans' performance with men is keeping them competitive, women have still remained the center of attention.
Mr. Tester's campaign manager shrugged off the Mason-Dixon poll, saying he is skeptical of the numbers in general.
"The latest poll has several outliers inconsistent with what we've seen, but the bottom line is this race is and always has been close," said Preston Elliott. "We feel good about the support Jon Tester has from all Montanans, and we know they don't trust lobbyist Dennis Rehberg's wrong priorities for our state."
And when asked whether he's concerned about Mr. Murphy's appeal to men, a spokesman pivoted into talking about Mrs. McMahon's struggle with female voters.
"Women across the state are going to hear more about McMahon's support for the extreme right-wing plan to allow employers to deny coverage for birth control, mammograms, and cervical cancer screenings to their female employees," said Murphy spokesman Ben Marter.
Mr. Murphy has spent the past few weeks hammering Mrs. McMahon over female issues, as she has steadily gained ground among women, running television ads about her willingness to support a proposal that would have effectively overturned a mandate for employers to provide contraception coverage.
And on Tuesday, he held a news conference in Hartford, Conn. to highlight his own support for the women's health care provisions contained in President Obama's health care law.
Female voters are also the focus in Massachusetts, where Mrs. Warren has applied a steady stream of pressure to Mr. Brown over his record on abortion and equal-pay laws. In a debate last week, she called into question his claims to be pro-choice and slammed him for opposing the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who supports abortion rights.
Rushing to defend himself, Mr. Brown has released ads clearly intended to reach women -- including one in which he appears folding laundry as his wife touts his qualities as a husband and father -- and even sent laundry supplies to Mrs. Warren after she told the Boston Globe "you probably won't see me folding laundry."
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