Abortion rights victory gives Democrats new hope for midterm elections

The size and scope of the result came as a shock to even the most optimistic Democrats. Not only did voters reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would have opened the door to tough abortion laws in the Republican state, they did so by turning out in large numbers, eclipsing election turnout more recent primaries and signaling that the issue can motivate even Republican-leaning voters in a former state President Donald Trump won by 15 points in 2020.
The political impact of what happened in Kansas will be felt most directly in the November midterm elections — particularly in the races for Governor and Attorney General after the The United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. wade, throwing the issue of abortion to the States. The June ruling led to procedural bans in force in several states while opening the door to more restrictions in others. At least four other states will vote on abortion-related ballot measures in November, but Democratic strategists are looking to the Kansas result to extrapolate lessons for states where abortion won’t be on the ballot.

“As the first state to vote on abortion rights after the fall of Roe v. Wade, Kansas is a model for restoring reproductive rights across the country through direct democracy,” said Alexis McGill. Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “We know Kansas won’t be our last fight or our last win.”

Democratic and Republican agents acknowledged on Wednesday that the result in Kansas, while limited to one state, could alter how each party approaches the midterms. Democrats, buoyed by the polls and the Kansas result, will likely try to make abortion a major issue in key races, hoping to tie their Republican opponents to support for tougher abortion laws.

Likewise, Republicans will continue to be cautious on the issue, largely ignoring their party’s longstanding desire to tighten abortion laws across the country and instead hoping to keep the focus on the economy.

“I think our Republican candidates are going to continue to focus on the issues that matter most to voters, and every poll continues to say costs and the economy are going up,” said a Republican operative working on the home races. .

A GOP operative working on the Senate races added, “The midterm elections will not happen in a vacuum, and there are other issues that voters are considering when they vote in the fall. This will not be an up-or-down vote on any question.”

Democrats were more hopeful the Kansas result was a positive sign for the party’s medium-term prospects, amid low approval ratings for President Joe Biden and rising inflation and other economic concerns.

“We already knew that the majority of Americans support abortion rights, but last night’s results in Kansas showed us that this is also a motivating factor for voters,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, an agent. Democrat and CEO of progressive consulting firm Bully Pulpit Interactive. “We’ll likely see more Democratic candidates learn from Kansas and look at the threat and urgency of abortion bans across the country and start communicating that directly to voters.”

However, results across the country on Tuesday also highlighted a complicated relationship between voters and abortion. While Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected the abortion amendment, Republican primary voters in places such as Arizona, Michigan and Missouri also nominated candidates for governor, U.S. senator and other high-level positions who support tougher abortion restrictions.

Republicans want a foothold on abortion

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in June, many Republicans have tried to walk a fine line when it comes to abortion.

Candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania Doug Mastriano is one of the clearest examples. As he ran for the Commonwealth GOP primary, Mastriano called abortion the “#1 issue.” Since winning the nomination, he has been less adamant, arguing instead that the “people of Pennsylvania” will decide the future of abortion in the state. In a statement after the June decision, Mastriano – a state senator who supported and sponsored strict anti-abortion legislation — said Republicans “must not divert our attention from the major issues facing families in Pennsylvania.”

And Mastriano is not alone as Republicans across the country try to keep the focus on sky-high inflation and voters’ sense of economic malaise instead of more contentious issues like abortion.

The Republican National Senate Committee released a memo following the May leak of a draft opinion that predicted the Supreme Court’s final decision, urging candidates to ‘be compassionate and consensual on abortion’ and to present themselves as willing to “listen” to people who disagree with them on the issue.

A Republican agent working on Senate campaigns said that while the Kansas result “reflects that there are a lot more nuances to abortion politics than most people realize,” the NRSC advised candidates to “decide how much they want to speak on the issue,” but to know that “voters want to speak out on issues that impact their day-to-day lives,” such as the economy.

Some Republicans also believe that focusing on abortion would allow Republicans to take offense at Democrats who oppose procedural limits.

“You have to pressure the Democrats without limits,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist who was a top spokesman for the Republican National Campaign Committee in 2018, noting his party’s attempts to attack the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman for saying “no” when asked if there were “limits on abortion that you would deem appropriate?”

Polls show Roe’s decision widely unpopular

Polls have consistently shown that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is widely unpopular and a majority of Americans support protecting abortion rights. A CNN poll published at the end of July found that nearly two-thirds of Americans disapproved of the High Court’s decision, including 55% of self-identified moderate or liberal Republicans.
CNN Poll: About Two-Thirds of Americans Disapprove of Roe v.  Wade, see a negative effect for the nation to come

But Tuesday’s vote was the first real global test of that support in an era without Roe’s protections, and the result indicates not only how accurate recent polls are, but also how voters — even in a deep red state like Kansas — are spurred on by the issue, giving Democrats an opening.

“It’s further proof of what poll after poll has told us: Americans support abortion rights. They believe we should be able to make our own health care decisions, and they will vote in consequence, even in the face of misleading campaigns,” Christina said. Reynolds, a senior member of EMILY’s List, which supports Democratic women who support abortion rights.

After the Supreme Court’s draft opinion leaked in May, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says a nationwide ban on abortion was “something worthy of debate”, acknowledging that state legislatures and Congress would likely address the issue.
Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, former president of the House Republican Conference, told a reporter last month that House Republicans wouldn’t propose a nationwide abortion ban “before the election,” before adding “well, yes” when asked if they would if they won the House in 2022.

Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of House Majority PAC, the leading Democratic super PAC focused on home races, framed the issue as one of Americans losing a key right — echoing messages that worked for Democrats in 2018 around the issue of health care.

“Republicans want to take that right away from Americans, and Democrats want to secure that freedom and the freedom to control your own body,” she said. “It takes away a fundamental right that has a major impact on Americans across the country. And Americans don’t like having rights taken away from them.”

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