Gearing up for another midterm battle, women’s groups on opposite sides of the abortion debate have a new point of contention - former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin and her crop of “mama grizzly” endorsements.
EMILY’s List, the pro-choice fundraising group for female candidates, ignited the Palin debate Tuesday with a new Web-based campaign challenging Mrs. Palin’s endorsement of a string of what the group calls “extremist” candidates - “mama grizzlies” in the former vice-presidential nominee’s terms - who would roll back women’s rights.
The 25-year-old group has launched a “Sarah Doesn’t Speak for Me” interactive website on which visitors can “share personal stories … learn the truth about Palin’s endorsed candidates … and support progressive candidates.”
“She attempts to impose a radical, backward-thinking, anti-choice agenda in this country,” wrote blogger Stephanie Schriock, a Montana native who thinks Mrs. Palin has “co-opted the independent frontier spirit.”
But the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, which supports female political candidates who oppose abortion, said the idea of framing the debate around Mrs. Palin is dangerous politics.
“EMILY’s List is busy perpetuating what it purports to abhor - using women candidates with whom they disagree as punching bags,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said. “They will lose votes with this approach.”
She noted that Mrs. Palin’s backing of candidates like Republican gubernatorial hopeful Nikki Haley in South Carolina had already proved potent in GOP primary battles this year.
“If they treat mama grizzly Nikki Haley like that in South Carolina, it will backfire,” Ms. Dannenfelser predicted.
Ms. Dannenfelser also said every round of Palin criticism by liberals or the mainstream media has resulted in a surge in memberships to her group’s “Team Sarah” website.
But Jessica Levinson, director of political reform for the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said EMILY’s List’s strategy of putting Mrs. Palin on center stage could bring the pro-choice forces more visibility.
“That was a brilliant political move,” Ms. Levinson said. “Sarah Palin has amazing name recognition and is a polarizing figure. She really brings out strong feelings on both sides of the aisle, even on the moderate right.”
Ms. Levinson also saw little downside in the move.
“I doubt using Mrs. Palin’s name will cause EMILY’s List to lose members,” she said. “And I think we’ve reached the age where it’s acceptable for women to point to women in the political arena to say what they think is wrong, as is the case with male politicians.”
It was at a Susan B. Anthony List event this spring that Mrs. Palin first used the term “mama grizzlies” to describe conservative female politicians on the rise.
“Washington, let me tell you, you no doubt don’t want to mess with moms who are rising up,” the former Alaska governor said during the May 14 breakfast speech at the Ronald Reagan Building. “I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when something’s coming to attack their cubs.”
Mrs. Palin also called President Obama “the most pro-abortion president” in U.S. history and that his health care overhaul plan has resulted in a “mom-awakening,” because “moms kind of know when something’s wrong.”