WASHINGTON — Republicans are torn between their policy goals and political goals in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling quashing Roe v. Wade, with activists’ rush to take advantage of the ruling clashing with the political reality that abortion rights remain popular in many this year’s intermediate battlefields.
“I don’t think this changes the medium-term benefit for Republicans because of Biden’s economic problems,” said Tom Davis, Virginia’s former Republican representative. “But in a cycle that revolves around turnout, it’s a net benefit for Democrats. Angry voters vote.”
For months, all signs point to a landslide victory for Republicans in November. But some in the GOP now worry that even if they retake the House and make overall gains, abortion politics could cost them a handful of key races — and with a 50-50 Senate, every race matters.
“This is a huge gift to the Democrats and one they couldn’t have come up with for themselves,” said veteran GOP strategist Mike Madrid, pointing to the portion of Americans who say they Democrats in Control of Congress has risen in the polls since the decision. “With inflation as high as it is, for the first time I think it’s a jump ball. The Democrats are back now.”
“If I were a gambler,” Madrid added. “I’d say Republicans get a majority, but maybe it’s not as big as it could or should be.”
GOP candidates in key battlefield states want to focus on inflation and turn the election into a referendum on an unpopular president, but that could be complicated as conservative officials rush to ban abortion in many states, finally given the chance to do so after decades of trying.
Most Republican officials, including those coordinating their party efforts in Washington, say they’re not worried — even though they’re advising candidates in battlefield districts not to talk about abortion and return to the safer realm of economic issues.
President Joe Biden’s approval rating is still at an all-time low. The percentage of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track remains at record highs. Almost every president since the Civil War has lost seats in the House in midterm elections.
And while the Supreme Court ruling has strengthened the democratic base, many liberals have too frustrated that Roe’s fall took place under Biden’s watchful eye and that Democratic leaders have done nothing more to fight it, making it unclear whether their anger will translate into votes for the party in November.
“Democrats are living in an alternate reality if they think this election will not be a referendum on the record-high price hikes their policies have created,” said Michael McAdams, the communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Opinion polls, such as a Monmouth University Survey dated Tuesday, found that while the number of respondents citing abortion as their number one problem rose after the Dobbs decision, it went from just 1% to 5%. Inflation, gas prices and the economy were the main concerns of much larger segments.
Even among Democrats, only 9% said abortion was their number one problem, while 25% chose inflation and another 11% specifically mentioned gas prices.
“Economic concerns are tending to the top of the family problem list, as you might expect, but the unique impact of inflation is now really hitting. And most Americans blame Washington for their current pain,” said Patrick Murray, director of the unbiased Monmouth poll.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which helps coordinate GOP races in state legislatures where abortion fights will now be fought, conducted its own poll shortly after the Dobbs decision and found that Republicans are still headed for strong elections — as long as they “stay focused on making this election a referendum on Joe Biden’s disastrous economic policies.”
“While abortion is an issue people care about, the data makes it clear that it is not one of the top issues that will drive voting in November,” reads the group’s poll memo, sent last week. “We have state Democrats who are completely pulling back from the economy, and now is not the time to let them go.”
Conservatives also want to try to flip the script by portraying Democrats as the real extremists on abortion, arguing that they are simply supporting the state’s rights to make their own laws, while Democrats are supported by the taxpayer. want funded late-term abortions.
Public opinion Research has long shown that most Americans prefer access to abortion in general, but also that most Americans support it limits about, for example, at what time during pregnancy abortions can be performed.
“The political gifts that the other side has given us over and over, they have given us again, and that is an unyielding position that has very, very little support, which is that all abortions to the end, paid for by you and I, are a politically unmarketable position,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which aims to reach 8 million voters in nine battlefield states
However, to sell that, Republican candidates need to stay on top of things and avoid the kind of statements that alienate swing voters, like the one on “legitimate rapewho famously helped sink Todd Akin’s 2012 Senate campaign in Missouri.
“That’s the only joker our candidates deal with. We have done a lot of work, exhausting work in the run-up to now, in recent months we have communicated about this with incumbent office holders and candidates,” Dannenfelser. “But there are no guarantees they will listen.”
Some candidates listen.
Even the famously bombastic Republican Paul LePage, who wants to reclaim the governorship of Democratic-oriented Maine, said “I don’t have time for abortion” when asked about the issue last week.
In Nevada, where Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt is turn to the economy while a Democratic super is PAC active ads claiming he supports “taking every woman’s personal decision and giving it to politicians”, Joe Lombardo, the GOP’s candidate for governor, said abortion rights are already legislated in the state. “I don’t support any change in that dynamic, but I also support pro-life,” Lombardo said.
But other candidates from the activist movement have vowed to push for abortion bans if elected, even in blue and purple states.
In Pennsylvania, GOP governor candidate Doug Mastriano has: said he wants to outlaw and criminalize abortion, and Republicans already control the state legislature. So the Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro, has repeatedly… warned that a “veto-pen from a Democratic governor is the only thing standing between us and an extreme abortion ban.”
In Arizona, Donald Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake said on Fox News that she wants to ban abortion pills in addition to all clinics.
Some politically savvy Republican governors have pushed for restricting abortion without banning it completely, creating a more favorable contrast for the GOP against Democrats who reject borders, said SBA List chief strategist Frank Cannon.
Georgia advanced a bill which would prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks after conception, and with exceptions for rape, incest, maternal life and if the fetus is not considered viable. Florida abortion ban starts at 15 weeks, after the vast majority of abortions have been performed, and includes similar exceptions.
Even Mississippi, one of the reddest states in the country, didn’t go as far as some activists in much more moderate states are now demanding. The same goes for Missouri, where anti-abortion activists are highly influential within the GOP.
“It’s going as far as we can go,” said Elijah Haahr, former Speaker of the Missouri House, a Republican who helped enact his state’s 2019 abortion ban, which came into effect through the Dobbs decision.
State law allows abortion only in cases where it will save the mother’s life, but, Haahr noted, it doesn’t prohibit the morning after pill or birth control.
Haahr, like some others, said that even if the anti-abortion efforts after Dobbs inadvertently help Democratic candidates in some races, he still expects it “to be a winner for Republicans both politically and politically.”
In other parts of the country, however, Cannon said Republicans like Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson will find himself in a more difficult position, defending a 170-year-old law banning most abortions, which was brought back into effect with the Dobbs decision.
“Wisconsin will be more complicated because it has a pre-Roe v. Wade state law that was very protective of unborn children,” Cannon said. “Pro-abortion groups will attack Senator Johnson for that legislation, even if it’s a state law beyond his purview.”
Johnson, like other Republicans in battlefield states, has tried to reassure voters by telling them:abortion won’t go away” and “it won’t be that big of a change.” But that was in May, just weeks before the decision of Dobbs and every abortion clinic in his state closed their doors thanks to that trigger law.
And in an age where even the most local politics is rapidly being nationalized, fortunes can favor candidates who best understand those dynamics.
A GOP official noted that DeSantis in Florida is slightly more restrictive than the 15-week ban as he seeks reelection, but is expected to move forward if he wins a second term.
“The strategy is clear,” said the agent. “Do it after the governor so as not to piss off suburban women, and screw up after the election to appease fire-breathing pro-lifers in a presidential primaries.”