The best political week of the year for Democrats ended Tuesday night with a strong punctuation in an unexpected place: deep red Kansas.
Voters went to the polls there for their primary election and overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure aimed at limiting abortion access in the state.
That result appeared to offer a decisive answer to one of Democrats’ most burning questions ahead of the 2022 midterms: How big will the backlash be from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike down national abortion rights?
A massive defeat for the anti-abortion movement — in every congressional district of a state Donald Trump carried by 15 points in 2020 — has prompted Democrats to talk of a massive backlash against GOP candidates pushing anti-abortion positions this year. autumn.
“This is bad news for House Republican candidates as the GOP plans to enact a national abortion ban,” trumpeted a release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden tweeted that the Supreme Court and congressional Republicans “have no idea about the power of American women.”
“Last night in Kansas,” Biden said, “they found out.”
If Democrats seemed to be feeling a little more than usual after the Kansas result, that’s because they did.
The past year has been largely brutal for Biden and his Democratic allies, but just in the last week they signed into law a massive investment in high-tech manufacturing and a major deal in the Senate on long-awaited climate and taxes. packet.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress spent the week opposing the production bill they had previously supported, found themselves arguing against a landmark veterans health care bill and vowing to fight legislation to codify marriage rights of the same sex. Recent polls have finally shown that Democrats remain competitive in the battle for Congress.
If Kansas was the cherry on top of an increasingly cohesive midterm case for Democrats, those closest to the push to protect abortion rights in the state had few grains of salt to offer.
Ashley All, a representative of one of the leading groups pushing for a “no” vote on the Kansas referendum, laughed when she was read the DCCC’s statement on the election result.
“It’s accurate to say that the vast majority of Americans support access to abortion care, and the vast majority of Americans believe that people should have the right to make private medical decisions and decisions about their bodies, for themselves. and their families. without government intervention,” Ol said. “That’s all I would say is demonstrated by yesterday’s vote.”
Stephanie Clayton, a former Republican who is now a Democratic state lawmaker in Kansas, said the result is not “some magical referendum” for the party.
“Trust me, I sure hope that happens in November,” Clayton said. “But this is really a conservative state doing what conservatives do, which is telling the government to stay out of their lives.”
There is a clear difference in voting for an abortion referendum and a Republican swinging to vote for a candidate. A referendum only requires voters to agree to the single policy in question – while choosing a candidate or party to vote for is often a decision made based on the sum total of multiple political efforts combined.
But national Democratic operatives hope that resentment among Republicans after the Supreme Court’s June ruling could be enough to prompt them to drop out this cycle, even if it means leaving behind their conservative leanings on issues such as the economy or education. The polls show that a majority of Americans support support Roe v. Wade and don’t favor outright bans on abortion, especially when exceptions are made.
Since the Dobbs The decision was rejected, with Republicans arguing that voters will be motivated far more by the poor economy and President Joe Biden’s job performance than by issues like abortion. Elections in Kansas — which saw a surge in voter registration after the court’s ruling, mostly by women — appear to be a counterweight to that argument.
But despite Republicans’ stance on the issue, she’s been relatively mum since the Kansas referendum was rejected.
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), an OBGYN by trade, bemoaned the voters’ decision, writing in a statement on the congressional website: “Too many times I’ve seen grief and hurt, no explanation why — this is one of those moments”. But fellow Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) did not have a statement on his website, nor did the three Republican members of the Kansas congressional delegation, Reps. Tracy Mann, Jake Latourne and Ron Estes.
The Daily Beast also reached out to several national GOP groups to discuss the referendum. no one answered.
Jesse Ferguson, a longtime Democratic strategist, argued that the growing silence from GOP leaders and candidates on abortion belies a hope that “nobody remembers what they’ve done or what they want to do.”
“Voters rarely decide how to elect officials based on one issue,” Ferguson said. “But people are afraid of what it will mean if these MAGA Republicans get into power.”
While congressional GOP leaders — Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — who have not ruled out seeking a national abortion ban if they regain the majority next year — have largely avoided talking about the issue.
Democrats have taken advantage of that ambiguity, and congressional observers say it’s key to making abortion an issue in House and Senate races, which have a number of complicated issues at stake.
Democrats should stress that Republicans would be rubber stamps for McCarthy or McConnell, a Democratic operative said, since they would be under enormous pressure to pursue a national abortion ban if they take over the House and Senate next year.
“This is not the Women’s March,” the agent warned. “These are independents and Republican voters who don’t like that this has become the GOP’s flagship issue.”
Meanwhile, abortion could prove even more powerful in state-level races, where voters choose governors who could sign or veto new restrictions or protections.
David Turner, communications director for the Democratic Governors Association, argued that Republicans’ restrictive positions on abortion only add arrows to the Democrats’ talking points, telling the Daily Beast that there is a “strain of extremism in Republican candidates across the board that has been turning voters away.” of all sides. “
“The biggest case we can make is that Democrats are fighting for your freedoms and rights, and Republicans are trying to take them away — and in some cases punish you,” Turner said.
This idea of making the Republicans the party of government interference in abortion was used repeatedly in the Kansas pro-abortion campaign. Kansans for Constitutional Freedom led to multiple ads calling for abortion restrictions”other government order that endangers our personal rights” and the argument that the proposed abortion ban would be “replacing religious freedom with government control”.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes — which represents Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri — also said Wednesday that the Kansas vote is a case for candidates to embrace abortion, rather than shying away from an issue often seen as political dangerous or unstable, especially when trying to appeal to moderate or independent voters.
“What we saw yesterday from Kansas tells us that reproductive rights is a galvanizing issue. People are talking about privacy and what it means to make decisions about your family and your life in ways that haven’t happened publicly before,” said PPGP CEO Emily Wales.
The situation in Kansas was “pretty unique,” said All, a spokesman for Kansans For Constitutional Freedom. But he said it offers many lessons for Democrats elsewhere. Abortion-rights candidates and groups, they all argued, would do well to reach out carefully to a variety of constituencies.
“What we found is that this issue is not partisan for voters, and so while political observers tend to see it through a partisan lens, it’s not the way the vast majority of the American people see it,” Ol said. “Progressive, reliable pro-choice voters were already engaged, but this change really lit a fire under more moderate voters, some conservative voters, some libertarian voters, who just don’t want government in their jobs.”
Clayton, the Kansas state lawmaker, said the Democrats’ ultimate message should be “these candidates want to rule your life.”
“I respect you,” he continued, echoing the Democrats’ message. “You know how to run your life.”
In other key states where abortion will be a major issue this fall, Democrats who have built that message were fueled by the Kansas election — and are already using the result to update their books.
This includes Michigan, where there is an ongoing legal battle over the pre-Roe the abortion ban, and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer faces a Republican, Tudor Dixon, who has made extreme comments on abortion in the past.
Mallory McMorrow, a Democratic senator from Michigan who has recently become popular for her pushback against Republican culture war attacks, said Democrats are “tying the threads together” of their case against Republicans like Dixon.
“It’s the party of small government that runs on a platform about how to raise your children or what you can do with your body, especially if you’re a woman,” McMorrow said. “It’s long overdue for Democrats to lean into, ‘We’re the party of freedom and choice, and this Republican Party is trying to take away your choices.’