EMILY’s List has a message coming for women who may be impressed by Marco Rubio‘s recent performance in the Senate: Don’t be fooled by those dreamy eyes and moderate positions on immigration reform.
The group, which fundraises and advocates for Democratic women candidates and is actively involved in preparing for a possible Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, is firing one of the first shots of the 2016 cycle, aiming to brand the Florida Republican and likely contender as “the most anti-women, anti-family candidate of the GOP field.” The messaging campaign, using email and social media, is expected to ramp up in the coming months.
“This is a senator who was one of only 22 Republican men voting against the Violence Against Women Act,” said Stephanie Schriock, the group’s president, in an interview previewing the effort with TIME. “He has worked tirelessly to roll back women’s freedom.” Central to the EMILY’s list argument is Rubio’s vocal support for an upcoming Republican Senate bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. The bill, which has not yet been brought for a vote, faces certain defeat in the Democrat-controlled Senate. “I’m very supportive of it. I’m already on a bill that does it in the D.C. area,” Rubio told POLITICO this week. “We’re trying to determine appropriate language that our colleagues can coalesce around, so that’s what we’re working on.”
By attacking him early from the left, the Democratic-leaning effort hopes to dissuade moderates from rewarding Rubio for his leading role in crafting the Senate immigration reform effort. At the same time, Rubio has been under a torrent of fire from the Republican Party’s conservative grassroots over his work on immigration. His potential leadership on the abortion bill has been viewed as a way to win back support on the right. A Rasmussen poll found Rubio’s favorability among Republicans voters dropped 15 points to 58% during the recent immigration debate in the Senate.
On the issue of abortion, the national polling may be on Rubio’s side. A much-cited January Gallup poll found that 64%t of Americans believe second trimester abortions should be illegal. A National Journal poll conducted last month found a narrow plurality support the 20-week ban, by a margin of 48% to 44%.
EMILY’s List and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have compiled long lists of Rubio’s alleged sins against women, ready to deploy against him in a presidential campaign. These include his votes against pay equity legislation and for mandatory ultrasounds before abortions in Florida. Rubio has explained his opposition to the Violence Against Women Act vote by explaining the bill diverted funding for state domestic violence prevention. He called the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which passed in 2009, a gift for trial lawyers.
“We think it’s really important that the American people know his entire background,” Schriock said. “We’re going to track what Marco Rubio does to appease his conservative base and make sure the rest of the country knows where he stands on these issues.”
But Rubio loyalist and Republican operative Ana Navarro called the “anti-women” charge “silly.” “Maybe we should call Marco’s mom, his two sisters, his wife and his two daughters and ask them if he is anti-women,” she told TIME. “I’m not enthusiastic about waging a federal battle over the abortion issue, but I also think people can disagree on this issue and that doesn’t make them anti-women or anti-babies or anti-God.”
“Let’s also not forget that Marco has made the fight against human trafficking, a crime that particularly preys on women, one of his signature issues,” Navarro added. “Women are more than a vagina and I wish groups would be a little more careful about defining somebody as pro-women or anti women solely based on the abortion issue.”