New Hampshire Democrats spotlight abortion issues in tough Senate election

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) is seen during a press event on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 to discuss the leaked opinion from Justice Alito striking down Roe vs. Wade.
Greg Nash
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) is seen during a press event on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 to discuss the leaked opinion from Justice Alito striking down Roe vs. Wade.

New Hampshire Democrats are hoping the issue of abortion will work in their favor in the state’s closely watched Senate race in November, where Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) faces a tough reelection bid. 

 Hassan herself has already sought to seize on Democratic anger about the potential end of nationwide abortion protections, releasing an ad and attending rallies in defense of abortion rights. 

 The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, meanwhile, hit Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), on his record on the issue when he visited the state last week, launching a billboard highlighting what they said was a GOP push to criminalize abortion. 

 The strategy reflects a larger nationwide effort from Democrats to galvanize voters around the issue. 

 “This is something we’ve been very aggressive on, but also something that’s been a real part of the conversation in New Hampshire and a real point of concern for Granite Staters for well over a year now,” Hassan’s campaign manager, Aaron Jacobs, said in an interview with The Hill. 

 A Supreme Court draft opinion in a Mississippi abortion case leaked earlier this month suggested that the high court’s conservative majority was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that enshrined the right to an abortion nationwide. National Democrats, particularly at the Senate level, moved aggressively to warn voters that their party’s candidates needed to be elected and reelected in the midterms in order to influence the confirmation of future appointments to the high court. 

But the issue has also played a role in state-level politics in places like New Hampshire. 

 Last year, Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who is running for reelection, signed a state budget that included a ban on abortions after 24 weeks of gestation and mandatory ultrasounds for women before an abortion takes place.  

However, this month, Sununu signed abortion rights legislation that ended the ultrasound mandate prior to most abortions in the state. 

 Sununu earlier this month said New Hampshire would remain a “pro-choice state” and pushed back against the notion that the state’s abortion ban after 24 weeks is too extreme. 

 “I’m a pro-choice governor and as long as I’m governor, we’re going to remain a pro-choice state,” Sununu said, according to CBS News Boston. “The majority of pro-choice individuals do support a ban after 24 weeks. We have it, Massachusetts has it, New York has it. Those aren’t extreme states either.” 

 New Hampshire Democrats have particularly zeroed in on comments from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that a national ban on abortion would be “possible” if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

 “McConnell and Scott will stop at nothing to try to get themselves a senator from New Hampshire who’s going to push their agenda,” New Hampshire state Rep. Alexis Simpson (D) said during a press call. “That’s why we have to elect Sen. Hassan.” 

 Hassan’s campaign noted it was the first to put out an ad on McConnell’s comments, linking her opponents to them. 

 The incumbent senator is facing a number of potential GOP opponents, including former state Senate President Chuck Morse, former Londonderry, N.H., Mayor Kevin Smith and retired Gen. Don Bolduc. All three Republican candidates have been vocal about their anti-abortion views. 

 Hassan’s campaign hit Morse over his opposition to bipartisan legislation that would have enshrined abortion rights in New Hampshire. 

 “Chuck Morse, the senator’s opponent, was the deciding vote to kill it, but there were members of both parties supporting,” Jacobs said. “It was not just a party-line vote.” 

Morse helped draft and pass the state budget that included the 24-week abortion ban, which does not have exceptions for rape, incest or fetal viability, according to the Concord Monitor. However, the ban does include exceptions for when the life of the mother is at risk. 

 Meanwhile, Smith has called himself anti-abortion rights with the exception of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. He told Boston-based WBUR that the focus on abortion was being used by Democrats “to distract from what voters will be voting on this fall.”  

Bolduc’s campaign referred The Hill to a statement in which he slammed the leak of the draft Supreme Court decision and maintained his position. 

 “I am pro-life, and if the Court rules as indicated, I believe they made the right call,” Bolduc said. “We must understand that this opinion does not outlaw abortion. It returns the decision to the individual states to make the decision they think is best for their citizens. Here in New Hampshire, our state has already passed our own laws well before this Court decision.” 

 Hassan’s campaign pointed to polling from the Pew Research Center that showed 66 percent of New Hampshire adults said they believed that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The same survey showed that 29 percent of voters in the state say the procedure should be illegal in all or most cases. 

 A separate University of New Hampshire poll conducted last year found 38 percent of respondents thought abortion should be legal “in all circumstances,” while 50 percent said it should be legal in “limited circumstances.” Eight percent said it should be illegal under any circumstance. 

 Hassan stands to be a tough opponent for Republicans to beat in November. The incumbent senator has had a number of impressive quarterly fundraising hauls and has a $13 million reservation in fall airtime ahead of the midterm elections. On top of that, Democrats argue that New Hampshire’s Sept. 13 primary will not give Republicans enough time to unify behind a strong contender. But national Democrats are facing headwinds going into November with rising prices, inflation and poor approval ratings for President Biden. 

 The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as “lean Democratic.” 

 Republican strategists are questioning the strategy behind leaning into abortion access on the Democratic side, citing other major issues like rising inflation. 

 “They don’t have much going on in their favor as we approach the coming midterms, and I think this is kind of a Hail Mary for them,” said Juliana Bergeron, a longtime GOP activist and New Hampshire Republican national committeewoman. 

 When asked how Democrats can focus on economic issues and abortion access, Simpson, the state lawmaker, told The Hill that they are one and the same.  

“Reproductive rights are economic issues,” Simpson said. “People know that. Women know that.”

Hassan’s campaign maintains that the senator is also focused on other issues, like inflation, gas prices and the flow of migrants over the southern border. Last month, Hassan visited the southern border and voiced opposition to the Biden administration’s initial plan to lift Title 42. 

And earlier this month, Hassan released an ad calling for a gas tax holiday. 

“Voters are concerned about more than one issue right now and they expect her to be addressing more than one issue and that’s exactly what she’s doing,” Jacobs said. 

Tags abortion rights Chris Sununu Chris Sununu Democrats don bolduc Maggie Hassan Maggie Hassan New Hampshire Rick Scott Senate election

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