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Why some aren’t buying Democrats’ ‘go vote’ message on abortion

Voters are becoming disillusioned by Democrats’ calls to storm the polls following Roe v. Wade’s demise, arguing the party’s failure to prepare for the moment means it could face an unpleasant fate in November.

Almost from the moment the Supreme Court announced it was ending the constitutional right to an abortion, Democrats began working to make it a midterm issue, presenting a vote for their side as a way to help codify Roe at the state and perhaps federal level — or at least prevent Republicans from doing the opposite.

But that message is already falling flat. Frustration with the lack of progress on many women’s issues and what some see as a lack of a clear vision on abortion have left voters skeptical that the solution lies at the ballot box.

“Here we are with leadership basically [reduced] to begging for people to vote,” said Aaron Chappell, political director of the grassroots group Our Revolution. “No clear plan, no promises of what those votes will translate to.” 

“The people chanting ‘just vote blue’ make me lowkey want to die,” said another disgruntled operative involved with strategy for progressive candidates. “It’s nuts.”

Democrats across the country have sought to make abortion access front and center in their election bids. Last week, incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan’s (D-N.H.) campaign became the first to launch a television advertisement on the issue since the Supreme Court decision last month. In Florida, Rep. Val Demings (D), who is challenging incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), rolled out a digital hitting him over his abortion stance. 

Democratic and abortion rights groups are also pouring money into ad buys. On Thursday, Planned Parenthood Votes launched a $3 million television campaign in Pennsylvania hitting GOP Senate nominee Mehmet Oz over his anti-abortion stance. The national group’s action fund followed up with $1.5 million in spending in Wisconsin attacking Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). And in Nevada, EMILY’s List rolled out a $2.1 million buy slamming Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt on the same topic.  

Top Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have signaled that a nationwide abortion ban is unlikely. McConnell personally hasn’t been too eager to press the issue while his party is not in power. 

But Democrats don’t believe things will stay that way. They are so skeptical, in fact, that liberal candidates are warning on the campaign trail that their GOP counterparts would do just that if they win back control of the upper chamber, hoping to create enough urgency to tilt the turnout numbers in their favor.  

“One of the primary examples of just how politically bad this can be for Republicans is the talking points Senate Republicans put out within 24 hours of the leak happening,” said Jessica Floyd, who leads the Democratic PAC American Bridge.

“Don’t talk about the fact that this could take away your contraception. Don’t talk about the fact that this will actually limit general health care options,” she said about the apparent right-wing strategy. 

Democrats seeking higher office or looking to remain in their current positions see merit in pushing talking points that shift the focus to what Republicans could do if they reclaim one or both chambers of Congress. 

“I believe the best way to protect a woman’s fundamental freedom is to reject candidates who would support the nationwide abortion ban McConnell has been pushing for,” Hassan told reporters last week. 

Hassan, who previously served as the state’s governor with a staunch record of supporting abortion rights, said it’s “essential” to support Democrats who have said on the record that they would “vote to enshrine Roe.” 

But some strategists question whether that’s the right approach.

“I think that there is just this wishful thinking on the part of the party establishment that suddenly Roe being overturned is good news, that this changes the tide of the midterms,” Chappell said. 

Some candidates, aware of voter anger about what many see as a weak response from the Biden administration, are putting forward their own proposals.

Progressives and some moderates favor making the Supreme Court bigger by adding more justices to the bench, bolstering the long-held belief on the left that if there are more seats, it would even the representation of viewpoints and theoretically create more equitable rulings. Currently, the high court has a 6-3 conservative majority after former President Trump appointed three justices during his first White House term. 

On Tuesday, left-wing lawmakers solidified that position, with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the caucus chair, issuing a statement calling for more seats.  

“We must hold these rogue justices to account,” Jayapal wrote on behalf of her caucus. 

Democratic candidates are also pledging their commitment by supporting an end to the Senate’s filibuster. If it wasn’t for that one parliamentary procedure, they say, there would be more progress on everything from women’s rights to democracy reforms. Last week, Democratic lawmakers and activists praised Biden for saying he believes the rule should be amended in order to codify Roe. 

While his call was met with relief for some, others said that it was “half-assed” and lamented that he could have moved on the filibuster much sooner. 

“It’s just astounding that it took them this long and then when he finally gets to it, when he finally comes around on it, it’s a weak announcement at the end of a news week,” said another Democratic strategist, speaking without attribution to talk freely about the sensitive subject. “People are pretty pissed.” 

As with earlier blockades, however, Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), the two most moderate Democratic voices in the Senate, have been opposed to changing the rules and don’t appear likely to alter their stances now. This means that Democrats would likely have to keep the seats they currently hold and win two more in order for possible action. 

“Abortion Rights Week is feeling a lot like Infrastructure Week in that it never actually begins,” the progressive operative said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to offer further guidance on Tuesday, while Biden previously indicated that there could be an announcement in the coming days. 

For all the personal angst around the issue of abortion, other Democrats argue it’s not happening in isolation. Topics like access to reproductive health care, environmental regulations, and certain education reforms are broadly popular with voters, yet liberals aren’t able to make traction. 

That dynamic has created more tension between candidates running on aspirational platforms and elected officials facing the realities of a log-jammed Washington, D.C.    

“There’s this degree of self-fulfilling defeatism when leaders who control nearly every level of political power just sort of callously point to the next election,” said Sawyer Hackett, a senior communications strategist at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. 

“If we have all of that and we still can’t win on issues in that environment, then there are clearly these major structural issues we have to tackle too.” 

Tags 2022 midterms Abortion Adam Laxalt Democrats Maggie Hassan Marco Rubio Mehmet Oz midterms midterms 2022 Roe v. Wade Ron Johnson Val Demings
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