Anti-abortion group beats fundraising records, despite Trump drag

Anti-abortion group beats fundraising records, despite Trump drag
© Greg Nash

One of the nation's most powerful anti-abortion groups raised a record $18 million during this year’s election season, despite widespread anxiety about Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE that sidelined some donors throughout the campaign. 

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The fundraising total from the Susan B. Anthony List this year narrowly beat the group’s 2014 midterm fundraising haul of $16.7 million. 

The group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said she was surprised by the record fundraising in a year dominated by a lighting rod Republican nominee such as Trump. 

“It was definitely not what we were expecting,” she said. 

The nation’s only campaign-focused anti-abortion group has aimed its spending at four states with some of the closest Senate races — Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and, most recently, Missouri.

But Dannenfelser said she has been just as dedicated to electing Trump as holding on to the Senate, moving past the nominee's initial missteps on the group’s issue.

“We have prioritized the presidential from the beginning, even when it was tough to do,” she said. For anti-abortion activists, much of the motivation involves the fate of the Supreme Court, which stands to have a liberal-dominated bench next year for the first time in decades.  

Trump’s ascension to the top of the GOP’s ticket caused a drag on fundraising that Dannenfelser said sometimes threatened the pace of the group’s on-the-ground organizing.   

“There was a freeze on a big chunk of funding for a long time from the donor community,” Dannenfelser said, pointing specifically to July's Republican National Convention until now. “The money did come, but we had to make a decision to continue to invest in the presidential.” 

This has been a tough year for anti-abortion advocates. The movement’s longtime hero, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus MORE (R-Texas), couldn’t unite the party’s leaders behind him in time to win the Republican presidential primaries. 

Even before Trump became the nominee, he caused heartburn for the group by vocally supporting Planned Parenthood and later for suggesting women should be punished for having abortions.

Advocates are also battling a powerful coalition of abortion-rights groups — led by Planned Parenthood's $30 million in spending — to make Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton on US leading in coronavirus cases: Trump 'did promise "America First"' Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines Clintons send pizza to NY hospital staff treating coronavirus MORE the first female president. 

Dannenfelser’s group has been campaigning full-force for Trump since he became the party's standard-bearer. But she acknowledged that during the primary season, “We liked Trump least — that’s just the truth of the matter.”

During some weeks this fall, Dannenfelser said her group had supporters trained and ready to go out and canvass, but they had to wait for the money to get them going. 

“There were lean moments, without question, and we wondered if we would be able to ramp up or just stay at a certain level,” she said.

Still, Dannenfelser is confident about the impact of the 700 supporters who have taken part in on-the-ground campaigning this year. As of Friday, they had knocked on more than a million doors.

The group has been on the ground for more than a year in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina — Dannenfelser’s home state. Supporters more recently flooded Missouri, where the race between Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill MORE (R-Mo.) and Democrat Jason Kander has tightened in the final weeks. 

In each state, the Susan B. Anthony List has focused on people who they believe are “persuadable” on the issue, such as religious Hispanic voters, moderates and even Democrats.

Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the group, said it’s a shift from past years, when the anti-abortion group would focus squarely on its own base. 

“For decades, the pro-life get-out-the vote activity has been all these groups tripping over each other to get to the church parking lots the day before the election,” Quigley said in an interview Friday. “Those people should be with us already.”

After initial blunders during the primary season, Trump has worked hard to drum up his support within the anti-abortion movement.

His vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump digs in on criticism of Democratic governors Trump signs T coronavirus relief package Arizona lawmaker warns Pence state may end coronavirus testing due to shortage MORE, was praised for approving new restrictions to abortion in his state. Trump also doubled down on his promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who would oppose the landmark decision Roe v. Wade. 

In September, Trump also launched a national “Pro-Life Coalition” to toughen his stance on the issue. Dannenfelser was picked to lead the group.

In recent months, she said she’s watched Trump become more comfortable talking about the issue as a conservative. 

“He has communicated very boldly and better about this. The strength of his statements increased rather than waned,” she said.

One day before the presidential election, Dannenfelser said the biggest question is whether Trump voters — some of whom are taking part in politics for the first time — would be enough to overpower Clinton’s base.

“Trump, like him or not, got them engaged,” she said.