How Democrats see abortion policy after the Kansas vote

“The court has practically dared the women of this country to go to the polls to restore the right to choose,” President Biden said via video clip Wednesday, as he signed an executive order to help Americans cross state lines to get abortions. “They have no idea the power of American women.”

In interviews, Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., urged Democrats to be “passionate” in their support for abortion access, and Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, chair of the House campaign arm, said the Kansas vote offered a “preview” of the attractions. Rep. Elisa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan in a highly contested region, issued a statement saying that access to abortion is “at the core of preserving personal freedom, and ensuring that women, not government, can decide their own destiny.”

Republicans said midterm campaigns would be decided by Mr. Biden’s disastrous approval ratings and economic concerns.

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

“Add a number of candidates and a more robust conversation about a lot of other issues, and this single issue won’t drive the full national narrative that Democrats hope for,” said David Kochel, a veteran of Republican politics in nearby Iowa. Still, mr. Kuchel acknowledged the dangers of bypassing Republicans, as social conservatives push to ban abortion with few exceptions that polls generally show are unpopular.

“The GOP base is definitely ahead of what voters want to restrict abortion,” he said. “This is the main lesson in Kansas.”

Polls have long shown that most Americans support at least some abortion rights. But abortion opponents were more inclined to let the issue determine their vote, creating an emotional chasm between both sides of the issue. Democrats had hoped this summer’s Supreme Court decision to erase the constitutional right to abortion would change that, as Republican-led states scrambled to enact new restrictions, and a complete ban on the procedure was imposed.

The Kansas vote was the most tangible evidence yet that a broad swath of the electorate – including some Republicans who still supported their party in November – were ready to back down. Kansas voted against the amendment in Johnson County — home to the densely populated and temperate suburbs outside of Kansas City — rejecting the measure with nearly 70 percent of the vote, in a sign of the issue’s strength on suburban battlefields nationwide. But the amendment was also defeated in more conservative counties, where support for abortion rights outpaced the master. Biden’s show in 2020 is just about everywhere.

After months of struggling with their own base, if not their morale, broken, strategists and Democratic officials hoped the results would signal some kind of awakening. They argued that abortion rights are a powerful part of efforts to portray Republicans as extremists and turn the 2022 election into a two-party choice, rather than a referendum on Democrats only.

“Republicans running for president are quite open about their support for an abortion ban,” Senator Warren said. “It is equally important for Democrats to make clear that this is a key difference, and Democrats will advocate letting the holder make the decision, not the government.”

A Kansas-style referendum will be rare this election year, with four more states expected to roll out abortion rights directly to voters in November with actions to amend their constitutions: California, Michigan, Vermont and Kentucky. However, the issue has already emerged as a defining debate in some major races, including in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Democratic candidates for governor have positioned themselves as a bulwark against far-reaching abortion restrictions or bans. Michigan Republicans on Tuesday nominated Theodore Dixon, a former conservative commentator, for governor, who opposed abortion in cases of rape and incest.

And in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, the Republican far-right candidate for governor, said, “I don’t give way to exceptions” when asked if he believes in exceptions for rape, incest or mother life. Governor contests in states including Wisconsin and Georgia can directly affect abortion rights.

Other tests of abortion’s effect on races are coming soon. North of New York City, Pat Ryan, the Democrat who is running in this month’s House special elections, has made abortion rights the focus of his campaign, describing the race as another measure of the cause’s strength this year.

“We have to step up and make sure that our fundamental freedoms are protected and defended,” El-Sayed said. Ryan, the executive director of Ulster County in New York, who has been keeping a close eye on Kansas results.

Opponents of the Kansas referendum bowed to this message of “freedom”, with advertising This cast the effort as nothing less than a government mandate — anathema to voters who have long suspected too much interference by Topeka and Washington — sometimes without ever using the word “abortion.”

Some of the messages were for moderate voters, often in the suburbs, who switched parties in the last election. Strategists in both parties agreed that abortion rights could be prominent among these voters, especially women, in the fall. Democrats also cited evidence that the issue may also increase turnout among their primary voters.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Democrats registered to vote at a faster rate than Republicans in Kansas, according to a note from Tom Bonnier, CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic data company. the master. Bonnier said his analysis found that nearly 70 percent of Kansans who registered after the court’s decision were women.

“It is a misconception to not continue to focus this issue for the remainder of the election season — and beyond,” said Tracey Seville, a Democratic strategist. “What the Democrats have to say is that for Americans your bedroom is on the ballot next November.”

Within the Democratic Party, there has been intense debate since Roe was upset about the extent to which abortion rights are talked about in a time of high prices and a volatile economy — and that is likely to intensify. Some old strategists warn that there is always the danger of getting distracted from the issues that polls show still drive most Americans.

Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, said he understands the reluctance of party supporters.

“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’ve been through a lot of tough battles and a lot of tough countries to realize that the Earth has changed from under them. But it has.”

He urged Democrats to ignore polls that showed abortion is not a first-class issue, adding that “voters are taking their cues from leaders” and that Democrats need to discuss the possibility of abortion more. “When your pollster or strategist says, ‘Take a question about abortion and walk away from it,’ you should probably resist it,” he said.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll this week shows that the issue of abortion access is becoming more prominent for women aged 18 to 49, jumping 14 percentage points since February for those who said it would be very important to vote in elections. Midterm elections by up to 73 percent.

That’s roughly equal to the percentage of voters in general who said inflation will be very important this fall — and a sign of how mobile abortion has become for many women.

However, Republicans said they would not let their focus stray from the issues they have been raising for months.

“This fall, voters will consider abortion alongside inflation, education, crime, national security and the feeling that no one in Democratic-controlled Washington is listening to or caring about them,” said Kellyanne Conway, Republican pollster and former Trump White chief. home advisor.

Michael McAdams, director of communications for the Republican Congressional National Committee, said that if Democrats focused their fall campaign on abortion, they would ignore the economy and record prices: “No. Number one in every competitive area.”

Representative Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House of Representatives, agreed that “the economy is the critical issue for the people.”

“But there’s a connection here, because voters want leaders to focus on fighting inflation, not banning abortion,” he said. the master. Malinowski, who said he was planning to publicize abortion rights, said the results in Kansas emphasized to him the importance of abortion and the public’s desire to distance the government from such personal decisions.

“There is tremendous energy among voters and potential voters, this fall to make the point,” he said.

Peter Baker Contributed to reporting from Washington.

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