Oregon Case Study: Suzanne Bonamici's Special Election
In the wake of Rep. David Wu’s resignation, a special election was scheduled for January 31, 2012, pitting EMILY’s List endorsed candidate Suzanne Bonamici against Republican businessman Rob Cornilles. WOMEN VOTE! teamed up with a coalition of progressive groups, including the House Majority PAC, Planned Parenthood and SEIU to develop a cohesive strategy to win. The coalition conducted a poll just days before the primary that showed a clear path to victory for Suzanne Bonamici.
In order to win, we needed to educate two different groups of voters about Cornilles’ positions on two key issues. First, swing voters, in particular men, were moved by Cornilles’ own business record and failure to pay his taxes. Second, independent women and Republican women were persuaded to support Bonamici because of Cornilles’ extreme and out of touch position on a woman’s right to choose.
EMILY’s List WOMEN VOTE! developed a plan to educate independent and Republican women about Cornilles’ extreme and out of touch position on women’s healthcare. WOMEN VOTE! advertised on cable and online and pushed voters to a website (www.oregonwomenvote.org) where they could find more information about Cornilles’ extreme position. Planned Parenthood did a mail and phone program to the exact same universe of women that WOMEN VOTE! was advertising to. As we know from our Women’s Monitor research, it’s important to provide accurate, believable information to independent women, so all of our communications used the candidates’ own words to make our case.
WOMEN VOTE! did a poll on election night to gauge the impact of our program. According to our polling, women voters helped give Bonamici the edge in the special election: by a margin of 20 points, women chose Bonamici over Cornilles, a margin thirteen points greater than the electorate as a whole. For those who voted for Bonamici, choice was clearly a factor: 79% of Bonamici supporters who were familiar with Cornilles’ anti-choice position said the Republican’s stance made them “less likely” to vote for him. And finally, WOMEN VOTE!’s message on this issue was delivered. When asked unaided, a majority of voters accurately said Cornilles opposes a woman’s right to choose.