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Leaked draft abortion opinion throws bombshell into midterms

The leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade could mark a seismic change in the national political landscape, giving Democrats an opportunity to shift their midterm strategy in what is expected to be a brutal election year. 

Liberals at the state and federal level are rushing to harness the anger and energy of abortion rights supporters, while candidates across the spectrum are retooling their messaging that until Monday night was expected to focus on economic issues such as inflation.

Within hours of Politico publishing its report on the leaked draft, activists had taken to the steps of the Supreme Court in protest while operatives flooded inboxes seeking to position the potential ruling as a choice on how to vote in November.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison tweeted that “2022 IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION of OUR LIFETIME!”

“To change this we MUST GROW our Senate majority! Codify Roe! Codify VRA! Support incumbents in AZ (Kelly), NM (Cortez Masto), GA (Warnock), NH (Hassan), & CO (Bennett) Look at races in: VT, NC, PA, WI, FL, OH, IA, MO, KY, LA, UT, SC,” he continued in a lengthy thread.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) said in its own statement that the “Republican attack on abortion access, birth control and women’s health care has dramatically escalated the stakes of the 2022 election.”

Strategists within the party said abortion would likely be a major issue on the campaign trail. But they cautioned it may not blot out other key topics.

“It has the potential to be a game changer,” said Kelly Dietrich, who leads the National Democratic Training Committee, a group that prepares candidates to run successful campaigns. 

“But it is not going to be a panacea for the Democratic challenges coming this fall. We need to use this as another opportunity to remind voters how out of step Republicans are.” 

Another strategist agreed.

“I don’t know if choice standing on its own will be a message that gets a large bloc of voters to the polls,” the source said. “I do believe that it will be an example that we can point to and other Democratic candidates can point to as to why Republicans are out of touch.” 

The Politico report — which broke the night before Ohio voters headed to the polls on Tuesday in one of the first major primaries of the year — was the culmination of some of Democrats’ worst fears. Watching Republican-controlled parts of the country enact restrictive abortion measures, many progressives had worried that the conservative Supreme Court majority would overturn the decades-old ruling, effectively leaving it up to states to decide what, if any, limitations to place on the procedure. 

Justice Samuel Alito appeared to indicate that was the plan. In the draft decision provided to Politico, Alito wrote that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.”

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” he wrote. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” 

Witnessing the trend of states like Texas, Oklahoma and Florida placing more and more restrictions on abortion, some liberals this year started coming around to the idea that a possible ruling like Alito drafted could help energize voters during an otherwise unfavorable election season. On Tuesday, Democratic advocacy groups and campaign committees said Republicans were finally seizing on their longtime end goal.

“I don’t think a lot of folks realize what is at stake and how this [is] attached to other collective rights as well,” Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D) said on Tuesday. “The dynamic with abortion access is a lot of folks who are impacted don’t realize that these laws are in place until they need the service.” 

“It wakes people up who have not thought this was actually going to happen,” she said. 

President Biden, who campaigned like the rest of the Democratic Party on an abortion rights platform, on Tuesday said that the potential ruling “would mean that every other decision related to the notion of privacy is thrown into question” and called it “radical.”

Earlier in the day, he released a statement from the White House calling on lawmakers to act. 

“At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roewhich I will work to pass and sign into law,” the president wrote. 

The DSCC echoed the president’s sentiment to The Hill. 

“If Republicans were to win in November, their priority will be to make abortion illegal across the country without exceptions,” said DSCC spokesperson Nora Keefe. 

Some on the progressive left, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), were a step ahead of Biden. They doubled down on prior calls to get rid of the upper chamber’s legislative filibuster to lower the threshold for codifying abortion rights from 60 votes to 50. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have opposed doing that. 

Left-wing groups backed that plea, noting that if abortion indeed becomes a state-by-state practice, Republicans could eventually redraw areas to suit their political goals. 

“They’ve invested from the grassroots on up to build an apparatus that would achieve this very thing,” Dietrich, of the National Democratic Training Committee, said about the GOP. “Democrats need to be thinking long-term the same way. We need to be investing at the local and state levels, not just talking about it.”

“We need to be building a long-term plan and strategy to build power, not be so candidate-focused and independent cycle to cycle,” he added.

The leaked draft ruling — and the questions about whether abortion rights could pass Congress — also brought to the forefront a number of state-level races where abortion rights are likely to be decided in the coming years.

“Democratic governors are the last line of defense in a number of states to protect these sorts of rights that the country up until this point had taken for granted,” the Democratic strategist said.  

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who is facing a tough reelection campaign, called on the state’s Supreme Court last month to make a decision on the constitutionality of the procedure. 

A 1931 law criminalizing abortion, except when the life of the mother is at risk, is still on the books there, but it’s currently being blocked by Roe. Whitmer and her allies warn that if Roe is rolled back or overturned, however, the ’30s-era law could go back into effect. 

“There’s going to be a really clear contrast between what our Democratic governors are standing for and our Democratic gubernatorial candidates and what the Republican Party is standing for,” the strategist added.  

Republicans, conversely, have tailored their messaging until now on the economy, influx of immigrants on the U.S. southern border and rising crime rates in some urban areas.

“This is an important issue, no doubt,” acknowledged Sarah Chamberlain, president of the Republican Main Street Partnership. “However, in regard specifically to the midterm elections, there are many issues at play, and we are six months away from Election Day.”

In the wake of the news, conservatives’ messaging has mostly been about the leak itself. But on Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) released its own memo in reaction to the news, first obtained by Axios, outlining how GOP Senate candidates should approach the issue.

The letter calls on the leaker of the draft opinion to be “found, fired, and potentially prosecuted” but encourages a “compassionate” message when it comes to abortion itself. 

“I am pro-life, but this isn’t about political labels. I believe all Americans want us to welcome every child into the world with open arms. But if you disagree with me, my door’s always open. I’m always willing to listen,” a sample statement from the document reads. 

For right-wing activists, the bombshell report represents a major milestone in their decades-long fight to restrict a woman’s right to choose. 

“It’s going to mobilize people certainly on both sides, but this is what the pro-life movement has been waiting for,” said Mallory Carroll, the vice president of communications at Susan B. Anthony List. “It’s basically proof of purchase, return on investment for our pro-life political engagement.” 

“It’s going to keep this issue top of mind for Americans for the duration of the summer and leading into November,” she said.

Tags Abortion abortion rights Anna Eskamani Biden Jaime Harrison midterms Supreme Court

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