A breakthrough vote to uphold abortion rights in deeply conservative Kansas on Wednesday rippled across the midterm campaign landscape, galvanizing Democrats and underscoring for Republicans the risks of going too far on the bill. one of the most emotionally charged topics in American politics.
The landslide defeat of a measure that would have removed abortion protections from the state constitution quickly emboldened Democrats to more strongly defend abortion rights and even revert to some of the language long used by conservatives against government excesses, using it to brand abortion bans as crimes. on individual freedoms. (On Wednesday, the margin was 58.8% to 41.2%.)
“The court has virtually challenged the women of this country to go to the polls to restore the right to choose,” President Biden said by video Wednesday, as he signed an executive order aimed at helping Americans cross borders. states for abortions. “They have no idea of the power of American women.”
In interviews, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, urged Democrats to be “full-throated” in their support for abortion access, and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Campaign Branch of the House, said the Kansas vote offered a “preview.” attractions to come” for Republicans. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan in a highly competitive district, released a statement saying abortion access “goes to the heart of preserving personal liberty and ensuring that women, not the government, can decide their own fate”.
Republicans have said midterm campaigns will be defined by Mr Biden’s dire approval ratings and economic concerns.
Republicans and Democrats warn against confusing the results of an up-vote or down-vote question with how Americans will vote in November, when they weigh a long list of issues, personalities and their views on Democratic control of Washington.
“Add in candidates and a much more robust conversation about many other issues, this one issue isn’t going to drive the full national narrative that Democrats are hoping for,” said David Kochel, a veteran of Republican politics in neighboring Iowa. Still, Mr. Kochel acknowledged the risks of Republican overreach as social conservatives push for an abortion ban with a few exceptions that polls generally show are unpopular.
“The GOP base is definitely ahead of voters who want to restrict abortion,” he said. “That’s Kansas’ main lesson.”
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 hoped the Supreme Court’s decision this summer stripping the Constitutional right to abortion would change that, as Republican-led states rushed to enact new restrictions and outright bans on the procedure rolled in. imposed.
The Kansas vote was the most concrete evidence yet that a wide range of voters — including some Republicans who still support their party in November — were ready to push back. Kansans defeated the amendment in Johnson County — home to the populous and moderate suburbs outside of Kansas City — rejecting the measure with about 70% of the vote, a sign of the power of this issue on the battlegrounds of the nationwide suburbs. But the amendment was also defeated in more conservative counties, as support for abortion rights surpassed Mr Biden’s in 2020 almost everywhere.
After months of struggling with their own disengaged if not demoralized base, Democratic strategists and officials hoped the results would signal some sort of wake-up call. They argued that abortion rights are a powerful part of the effort to brand Republicans as extremists and turn the 2022 election into a two-party choice, rather than a referendum just on democrats.
“Republicans running for office are pretty open about their support for banning abortion,” Sen. Warren said. “It’s critical that Democrats make it equally clear that this is a key difference, and Democrats will advocate letting the pregnant person make the decision, not the government.”
A Kansas-style referendum will be a rarity this election year, with only four other states expected to impose abortion rights directly on voters in November with moves to amend their constitutions: California, Michigan, Vermont and Kentucky. However, the issue has already emerged as a defining debate in some key races, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Democratic gubernatorial candidates have cast themselves as bulwarks against sweeping abortion restrictions or bans. . On Tuesday, Michigan Republicans nominated Tudor Dixon, a former conservative commentator, for governor who has opposed abortion in cases of rape and incest.
And in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, the far-right Republican gubernatorial candidate, said, “I don’t give way to exceptions” when asked if he believes in exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. Governor contests in states like Wisconsin and Georgia could also directly affect abortion rights.
More tests of the impact of abortion on races are coming sooner. In upstate New York, a Democrat running in a special House election this month, Pat Ryan, has made abortion rights a centerpiece of his campaign, making the race another measure of power of the issue this year.
“We need to step up and make sure our basic freedoms are protected and defended,” said Ryan, the Ulster County executive in New York, who had been closely following the Kansas results.
Opponents of the Kansas referendum leaned on this message of “freedom”, with advertising who framed the effort as nothing less than a government mandate — anathema to voters long suspicious of too much intervention from Topeka and Washington — and sometimes without using the word “ abortion”.
Some posts were aimed at moderate, often suburban voters who 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 could also boost turnout among their grassroots voters.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Democrats registered to vote at a faster rate than Republicans in Kansas, according to a note from Tom Bonier, chief executive of TargetSmart, a Democratic data company. Mr Bonier said his analysis found that around 70% of Kansans who registered after the court ruling were women.
“It is professional misconduct to not continue to center this issue for the remainder of this election season — and beyond,” said Tracy Sefl, a Democratic strategist. “What Democrats should be saying is that for Americans, your room is on the ballot in November.”
Within the Democratic Party, there has been a fierce debate since Roe was unseated over the importance of talking about abortion rights in a time of rising prices and a faltering economy – and it is likely to escalate. intensify. There is always the risk, some longtime strategists warn, of becoming distracted from the issues that polls show are still on the minds of most Americans.
Sen. Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, said he understood the reluctance of 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 many tough battles and many tough states to recognize that the ground has shifted beneath them. But it has.
He urged Democrats to ignore polls that showed abortion was not a top-tier issue, adding that “voters are taking inspiration from leaders” and that Democrats need to talk more about access to healthcare. ‘abortion. “When your pollster or strategist says, ‘Take an abortion question and walk away from it,’ you should probably resist,” he said.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this week showed that the issue of access to abortion has become more important for women aged 18 to 49, with a jump of 14 percentage points since February for those who say that it will be very important for their vote in the midterm elections, up to 73 percent.
That’s roughly equal to the share of voters overall who said inflation would be very significant this fall — and a sign of how bustling abortion has become for many women.
Still, Republicans have said they won’t let their attention divert from the issues they’ve been hammering away at for months.
“This fall, voters will consider abortion alongside inflation, education, crime, national security and a sense that no one in Democratic-controlled Washington is listening or caring. them,” said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster and former top Trump White official. House counselor.
Michael McAdams, communications director for the Republican National Congressional Committee, said if Democrats focused the fall campaign on abortion, they would ignore the economy and record high prices: “the No. 1 problem in every district competitive”.
One of the House’s most threatened Democrats, Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, agreed that “the economy is the defining issue for people.”
“But there is a relationship here, because voters want leaders to focus on fighting inflation, not banning abortion,” he said. Malinowski, who said he planned to advertise abortion rights, said the results in Kansas confirmed for him the importance of abortion and the public’s desire to hold the government away from such personal decisions.
“There is tremendous energy among voters and potential voters this fall to make this point,” he said.
Pierre Boulanger contributed reporting from Washington.