Kyrillos, Menendez battle over women

State Sen. Joe Kyrillos in his bid for U.S. Senate unveiled a new coalition Monday designed to bolster his support among women.

Dubbed “Women for Kyrillos” the coalition is spearheaded by the senator’s wife, Bergen County Executive Kathe Donovan and Christine Giordano Hanlon, who earlier this year vied for Monmouth County GOP chair.

The women touted Kyrillos’ new jobs plan, which has measures aimed at women including additional job training, and slammed incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez for his role in the poor economy.

“Our nation is in economic crisis.  From businesswomen to stay-at-home moms, women across our state are suffering from the failed policies of Senator Bob Menendez,” said Hanlon.  “With record high unemployment, long-term underemployment, the high cost of gas, goods and services, our families are struggling.”.

But the press conference and release announcing the coalition was met with a stinging rebuke from Menendez, who found his own cadre of influential women who attacked the Republican on his record in the Senate.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, former Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono and Assemblywomen Pam Lampitt and Valerie Huttle issued statements condemning Kyrillos for his votes to shoot down funding for women’s healthcare and on a bill to help spur paycheck equity between men and women.

“On all of the issues that matter most to the women of New Jersey, State Senator Joe Kyrillos has been on the wrong side – opposing funding for women’s health care, abandoning women who need screening for breast cancer, screening for cervical cancer, abandoning women who need pre-natal care, who need HIV testing and, yes, abandoning women who are seeking family services,” said Buono, a potential gubernatorial challenger next year.

The women derisively dismissed Kyrillos as a fighter for women, exposing what some say is a weakness for any Republican running statewide in New Jersey:  Women’s issues.

“In a state like New Jersey, women trend to lean more Democratic in statewide elections because they tend to tack on some of the larger issues, like abortion,” said Monmouth University Pollster Patrick Murray.

Kyrillos is no more vulnerable when it comes to women than other Republicans, Murray said, including previous U.S. Senate candidates Tom Kean Jr. and Dick Zimmer, who each lost the women’s vote by double digits in their respective runs.

But the Kyrillos camp disputes assertions that the Republican has not served women during his 20 years in the state Legislature.

“Senator Kyrillos spearheaded legislation to give harsher penalties to domestic violence abusers, he’s worked to securing funding for local women’s shelters, and led education reform efforts in the state Senate,” said spokeswoman Meaghan Cronin.

Asked for specifics on Menendez’s record on women, Cronin tied it to the larger issue of the economy.

“Menendez continues to raise taxes, increase spending, and borrow money we don’t have, racking up debt our children will have to pay back.   Joe Kyrillos believes that women benefit the most from a strong economy and good job opportunities.”     

According to various recent polls Menendez holds leads ranging from 14 to 22 points among women.  To narrow that gap, he’s borrowing from the playbook of Gov. Chris Christie.

“What he’s trying to do is narrow that gap like Christie did against Corzine,” Murray said.  “Christie only lost that race by 5 percent among women.  By using this attack he’s basically co-opting the strategy from the Christie campaign, which is Bob Menendez is responsible for the bad economy, which makes it hard for you to raise your families.”

In the end, Murray said the respective strategies will be a wash. Unlike Corzine, Menendez doesn’t control the agenda, so pinning individual issues on him is more difficult than it is in a race for the executive branch, he said.  But on the other side of the ledger, women in general don’t take their cues from female elected officials.

“This is not the message you are likely to see from the campaigns after Labor Day,” he said.