WASHINGTON – Republican senators were surprised by Tuesday’s sweeping victory for abortion rights in Kansas, of all places, even as they tried to play down the electoral implications for their party ahead of November’s midterm elections.
“It’s definitely a wake-up call for us,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) acknowledged Wednesday.
“Kansas, which is a pretty red state — it’s hard to find the words. I think people need to see it,” Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.) added when asked for his reaction to the vote.
In the first electoral test since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Kansans rejected a right-wing amendment that would have stripped their state constitution of abortion protections — a huge victory for abortion rights advocates that will likely set the tone for what happens to come nationally.
Democrats said the vote, which favored abortion rights protections by nearly 20 percentage points and historic primary voter turnout, sent a resounding message to the nation that Americans support abortion rights. They predicted the GOP would hit the streets helping to overturn Roe at the ballot box.
The vote is likely to unnerve Republicans in the districts, especially if they are on the ballot with a similar abortion referendum, as in California. It’s not yet clear, however, whether voters in other states that don’t have abortion rights explicitly on the ballot will head to the polls in similar numbers in November.
Republicans argue that concerns about rising inflation, particularly gas and food prices — combined with President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings — will overshadow the abortion issue and propel them to victory in both the U.S. House as well as in the Senate.
“I think the biggest motivator for voters this time will be the economy,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) predicted Wednesday.
Still, it’s hard to argue that voters aren’t paying more attention to abortion rights and where their elected leaders stand on the issue after the explosion in Kansas.
Even polling by the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm has shown that the party’s stance on abortion rights is not politically ideal: In May, after a draft of the Supreme Court decision that ended Roe was leaked, the Republican National Committee Senators published a presentation of polls on how their candidates should discuss abortion issues.
In it, they asked voters to choose between two candidates. The first, a Republican, supports “a ban on abortion after 15 weeks with exceptions for the life and physical health of the mother or serious fatal abnormality of the baby.” The second, a Democrat, “supports unrestricted abortion up to the moment of birth.”
The poll showed that 53% of voters would choose the Republican, while just 28% would choose the Democrat.
The glaring flaw in the research? There does not appear to be a single member of the Republican caucus who holds the described position. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska support abortion rights and opposed overturning Roe v. Wade, which protected abortion after 15 weeks. The other 48 Republican members support all bans well before 15 weeks of pregnancy, if not total bans on the procedure.
The presentation charged Republicans with being the “compassionate, consensus builders” on abortion.
“I think it’s always best to be in touch with what your constituents stand for. Kansas has a 22-week ban [on abortion]. I think it’s a policy that a lot of Republicans seem to think is OK,” Tillis said Wednesday.