September 27, 2022

“The court essentially dared women in this country to go to the polls to restore their right to choose,” said President Biden. he said via video On Wednesday, as he signed an executive order aimed at helping Americans cross state abortion lines. “They have no idea of ​​the power of American women.”

In interviews, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., urged Democrats to be “in full support” of abortion access, and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the House Democratic campaign chairman, said the vote in Kansas offered a “preview of future attractions” for Republicans. Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat in a hotly contested district, issued a statement saying abortion access “strikes at the core of preserving personal freedom and ensuring that women, not the government, can decide their own destinies ».

Republicans have said the midterm campaigns will be defined by Mr. Biden’s disastrous approval ratings and economic concerns.

Both Republicans and Democrats caution against confusing the results of an up-or-down question with how Americans will vote in November, when they weigh a long list of issues, personalities and their views on Democratic control. in Washington.

“Add candidates and a much more dynamic debate on many other issues, this single issue is not going to drive the full national narrative that Democrats hope,” said David Kochel, a veteran of Republican politics in nearby Iowa. But Mr. Kochel acknowledged the dangers of Republican overreach, as social conservatives push for abortion bans with few exceptions that polls show are generally unpopular.

“The GOP base is definitely ahead of where voters want to restrict abortion,” he said. “That’s the main lesson of Kansas.”

Polls have long shown that most Americans support at least some abortion rights. But abortion opponents were far more likely to let the issue determine their vote, leading to a passion gap between the two sides of the issue. Democrats had hoped a Supreme Court decision this summer striking down the constitutional right to abortion would change that, as Republican-led states rushed to enact new restrictions and outright bans on the procedure took effect.

The Kansas vote was the most concrete evidence yet that a broad swath of voters — including some Republicans who still support their party in November — were ready to push back. Kansans voted down the amendment in Johnson County — home to populous, moderate suburbs outside Kansas City — rejecting the measure with about 70 percent of the vote, a sign of the strength of this issue in suburban battlegrounds nationwide. But the amendment was also rejected in more conservative counties, as support for abortion rights surpassed Mr. Biden’s 2020 showing almost everywhere.

After months of struggling with their own disengaged, if not weakened, base, Democratic strategists and officials hoped the results signaled an awakening of sorts. They argued that abortion rights are a powerful part of the effort to brand Republicans as extremists and turn the 2022 election into a bipartisan choice rather than a referendum on Democrats alone.

“Republicans running for office have been quite open about their support for banning abortion,” said Senator Warren. “It’s critical that Democrats make it equally clear that this is a key difference, and Democrats will support letting the pregnant woman make the decision, not the government.”

A Kansas-style referendum will be rare this election year, with only four other states expected to give abortion rights directly to voters in November with measures to amend their constitutions: California, Michigan, Vermont and Kentucky. But the issue has already emerged as a defining debate in some key races, such as in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Democratic gubernatorial candidates have positioned themselves as bulwarks against sweeping abortion restrictions or bans. On Tuesday, Michigan Republicans nominated Tudor Dixon, a former conservative commentator who has opposed abortion in cases of rape and incest, for governor.

And in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, the far-right Republican candidate for governor, said:I do not provide a way for exceptionsWhen asked if he believes in exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. Gubernatorial contests in states like Wisconsin and Georgia could also directly affect abortion rights.

Other tests on the impact of abortion on tribes are coming sooner. Upstate New York, a Democrat running in a special House election this month, Pat Ryan, has made abortion rights a centerpiece of his campaign, casting the race as another measure of the strength of the issue this year.

“We have to step up and make sure our basic liberties are protected and protected,” said Mr. Ryan, the Ulster County, New York, executive who had followed the Kansas results closely.

Opponents of the Kansas referendum leaned on this message of “liberty,” with advertising that cast the effort as nothing less than a government mandate — anathema to voters long skeptical of excessive interference from Topeka and Washington — and sometimes without using the word “abortion” at all.

Some of the messages were aimed at moderate, often suburban voters who have switched between parties in recent elections. Strategists from both parties agreed that abortion rights could be important to those voters, especially women, in the fall. Democrats also pointed to evidence that the issue may also increase turnout among their core voters.

After the Supreme Court decision, Democrats registered to vote at a faster rate than Republicans in Kansas, according to a memo by Tom Bonier, the chief executive of TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm. Mr. Bonnier said his analysis found that about 70 percent of Kansans who signed up after the court’s decision were women.

“It’s bad practice not to continue to focus on this issue for the rest of this campaign — and beyond,” said Tracy Sefl, a Democratic strategist. “What Democrats need to say is that for Americans, your bedroom is at the polls this November.”

Within the Democratic Party, there’s been a heated debate since Roe was overturned about how much to talk about abortion rights in a time of rising prices and a struggling economy — and that’s likely to intensify. There is always the danger, some longtime strategists warn, of distracting attention from the issues that polls show still drive most Americans.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said he understood the reluctance from party stalwarts.

“The energy is on the side of abortion rights,” he said. “For decades that hasn’t been true, so it’s hard for some people who have been through a lot of hard battles and a lot of hard states to recognize that the ground has shifted beneath them. But has.”

He urged Democrats to ignore polls that showed abortion was not a top issue, adding that “voters are taking their cues from leaders” and Democrats need to discuss abortion access more. “When your pollster or your strategist says, ‘Give in an abortion question and walk away from it,’ you should probably fight back,” he said.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this week found that the issue of abortion access had become more important to women 18 to 49, with a 14 percentage point jump from February in those who say it will be very important to vote in midterms elections, up to 73 percent.

That’s about equal to the percentage of voters overall who said inflation would be very important this fall — and a sign of how hot abortion has become for many women.

But Republicans said they won’t let their focus shift away from the issues they’ve been hammering home for months.

“This fall, voters will consider abortion along with inflation, education, crime, national security and the feeling that no one in Democrat-controlled Washington listens to them or cares about them,” Kellyanne Conway said. , the Republican pollster and former Trump White staffer. Councilor of the House.

Michael McAdams, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said if Democrats focused the fall campaign on abortion, they would ignore the economy and record high prices: “the No. 1 issue in every competitive district.”

One of more threatened House Democrats, Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, agreed that “the economy is the defining issue for people.”

“But there is a connection here, because voters want leaders to focus on fighting inflation rather than banning abortion,” he said. Mr. Malinowski, who said he planned to tout abortion rights, said the results in Kansas reaffirmed for him the importance of abortion and the public’s desire to keep government out of such personal decisions.

“There’s a tremendous amount of energy among voters and potential voters this fall to point that out,” he said.

Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington.

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