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Democrats look to keep abortion front and center ahead of November

Protesters for and against abortion demonstrate outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 as the court hears arguments in June Medical Services v. Russ.

Democrats are seeking to keep abortion in the headlines ahead of the midterm elections in an effort to make it top of mind for voters as they seek to retain control of the House and Senate.

Their strategy comes as Republicans have tried to steer the focus to crime, the economy and immigration, all topics Democrats would like to avoid ahead of November.

But it’s also playing out as Republicans continue to generate news about the issue themselves. Most recently, a bombshell report alleged that Georgia GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker paid for a woman’s abortion. That followed tensions spilling out into public after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation for a 15-week abortion ban, raising concerns among some Republicans that he was shooting his own party in the foot ahead of November. 

“It’s clear that abortion is an issue that resonates with a sizable number of Americans, and it’s smart for Democrats to keep that issue at the top of voters’ minds as a way to drive turnout,” said Katie Grant Drew, a Democratic communications strategist. “And it’s remarkable that some Republicans are doing Democrats a favor and keeping abortion on the front burner by proposing legislation to ban abortion nationwide, which a majority of Americans oppose.”

The Daily Beast reported on Monday that Walker, who staunchly opposes abortion in any circumstance, urged a woman to abort a child the two conceived in 2009 and later reimbursed her $700 for the procedure. The Hill has not verified The Daily Beast’s report. 

While Democrats are not addressing the Walker story head-on, the party is spotlighting the issue in races up and down the ballot across the country. Over the past month in Pennsylvania, Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman has hammered his GOP opponent Mehmet Oz for not saying whether he supports a national abortion ban. 

And last month, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) targeted Nevada Republican Senate nominee Adam Laxalt in an ad over his abortion stance as part of its $8.4 million ad reservation in the state this fall.

Incumbent New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan (D), meanwhile, is seeking to make the issue front and center in her campaign, which leans strongly in favor of abortion rights. 

“In the final weeks of the campaigns, we will continue to use every tactic and every tool at our disposal to ensure that Senate Republicans’ unpopular plan to ban abortion nationwide is front and center for voters,” said Nora Keefe, deputy communications director at the DSCC.

The issue is one Democrats believe will play well with suburban women, a key voting demographic in a number of swing states. A Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed the group favoring Democrats over Republicans on the issue 40 to 24 percent. 

Meanwhile, Democrats — including the White House — continue to bash Graham’s legislation, highlighting Republicans’ messaging challenges on the issue. At a Democratic National Committee fundraiser late last month, President Biden said that Republicans are discussing an abortion ban that had “no exceptions — rape, incest, no exceptions.”

“I happen to be a practicing Roman Catholic,” Biden said. “My church doesn’t even make that argument.”

Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins argued that Republicans are insulting women with their moves to restrict abortion access, warning that such policies could alienate female workers.

“Democrats shouldn’t back down or hedge one bit,” he said. “We are the party that believes in body autonomy and respecting a woman’s right to choose what they do with their body and their lives. Every day Democrats aren’t making that argument is a missed opportunity and a disservice to women.” 

The White House has done its own events as well to keep abortion in the headlines.

Vice President Harris traveled on Wednesday to New Britain, Conn., to join Alexis McGill Johnson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) for a meeting. 

That trip was one of more than 20 meetings the vice president has done, with more than 150 state legislators from 18 states, to discuss abortion issues with local leaders.

The administration on Tuesday announced more than $6 million in new Title X grants and other grants to protect access to reproductive health care. And the Department of Education will release guidance to universities that will reiterate the Title IX requirement that institutions must protect their students from discrimination based on pregnancy, including pregnancy termination.

At the second meeting on Tuesday of the White House Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access, which came about 100 days after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, Biden focused on new guidance from the University of Idaho against offering birth control for students.

The president, echoing the tone he has used when discussing state legislation that has restricted reproductive rights, asked, “What century are we in?”

White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz reiterated Biden’s comments from the meeting, saying that the Supreme Court’s decision “takes us backwards as a country.”

“Whether it be a state university failing to provide contraception or a teenager being refused their essential medication, it’s clear that radical policies being championed by Republican officials are not just extreme but have very real, dangerous consequences for women’s health,” he said.

He added that Biden and Harris “are not going to hesitate to shed a light on this as the health issue it is and the reality that these policies are being propagated by Republican officials.”

Hopkins agreed, also arguing that Republicans have been hypocritical on abortion issues considering the Walker controversy this week.

“Republicans are hellbent on returning this country to a time where men control women’s bodies,” he said. “Their attempts at framing the abortion debate as concern over protecting the sanctity of life has been exposed as the height of hypocrisy by people like Herschel Walker. Women are watching and listening.”

NARAL, the abortion rights group, is also doing work to help elect Democratic candidates. It has launched what it says is its largest-ever midterm program, and its foundation has spent $2.2 million on running adds in Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada, where it has endorsed pro-abortion rights candidates. 

But recent polling shows abortion appears to be fading as a primary issue for voters. According to a Monmouth University survey released on Monday, abortion ranked seventh among the most important issues for voters, with 56 percent of respondents calling it “extremely or very important.” 

By contrast, inflation and crime came in first and second among the most important issues for voters. Eighty-two percent said inflation was “extremely or very important,” while 72 percent said the same about crime. 

“For Democrats to put all of their eggs in one basket on abortion is politically irresponsible given how much voters are concerned about the economy,” said a national Republican strategist. “Now the issue that is surging is crime.” 

The Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found that 39 percent of registered voters said they believed Republicans were better suited to solve crime, while 30 percent said the same about Democrats. 

“I don’t see anything changing between now and November where they’re going to be able to use abortion as a wedge they’re hoping for because ultimately that’s not what’s top of mind for voters,” said one national Republican operative. 

Drew, now a principal at Monument Advocacy, also warned that Democrats can’t rely on abortion issues alone to hold on to Congress this November.

“They need to continue to remind voters that they did what they said they would do by enacting major legislation on climate change, infrastructure, and prescription drug pricing,” she said.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Abortion Adam Laxalt Biden Herschel Walker Herschel Walker Joe Biden John Fetterman Lindsey Graham Lindsey Graham Maggie Hassan Roe v. Wade

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