Democrats look to abortion politics to draw voters to polls

Democrats are looking to repeat what abortion politics did for them in the 2022 midterms by appealing to a large swath of voters who think overturning Roe v. Wade went too far.

President Biden’s party achieved better-than-expected results in the midterms in large part because voters came out to elect Democrats to restore federal reproductive rights. They hope it’s still an issue that’s top of mind for voters.

“Democrats will keep it as a core part of their messaging heading into the fall because it’s such a clear contrast to the Republican position, which is out of step with where the American people are on this issue,” said Democratic communications strategist Katie Grant Drew.

Biden’s reelection campaign is targeting former President Trump, the GOP front-runner, in its messaging about Monday’s 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, aiming to remind voters his presidency led to the Supreme Court decision to overturn the landmark case in June 2022.

“When Americans go to the polls on Election Day this November, they will go knowing that the fate of every American woman’s freedom to make her own health care decisions is on the line. They will also know that the horrific alternative — the chaos, confusion, and uncertainty women whose rights have been ripped away are experiencing right now — falls squarely at the feet of Donald J. Trump,” campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez said in a Friday memo.

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Biden and Vice President Harris are holding a campaign rally Tuesday in Virginia, a pivotal state for Democrats in 2024, to mark the anniversary of Roe. Harris is heading Monday to Wisconsin — a key battleground state — to discuss the fall of Roe.

Meanwhile, other Democrats are building into their reelection campaigns the message that Republicans are too extreme on abortion.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) marked the Roe anniversary by talking about the “gut-wrenching stories” of “anti-choice attacks on reproductive freedoms” during a Senate hearing this week.  Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who is joining Harris on Monday for the rally, is messaging on keeping the Democratic majority in the upper chamber to avoid a national abortion ban.

“Wisconsin women want their freedoms back, plain and simple. While Tammy is running as the champion in the U.S. Senate for restoring reproductive freedoms, the mega millionaires [Sen.] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] has recruited to run against her would each vote alongside him to impose a national abortion ban — a policy far out of step with Wisconsin values,” said Baldwin’s campaign spokesman Andrew Mamo.

A Democratic strategist close to the Biden campaign said Democrats need to talk about abortion on the trail “as much as possible” and “to all demographics — college kids all the way to women and men who remember 50 years ago a world without Roe.”

“I think that there’s probably no one view other than this that could sway the election one way or another,” the strategist said.

While the Biden campaign is hitting Trump, it’s also targeting former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the only woman running for the GOP nomination, on reproductive rights.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.)
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.)

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) arrives to the Capitol for a procedural vote on Tuesday, September 26, 2023. (Greg Nash)

The campaign has called out the former South Carolina governor for signing a 20-week abortion bill in 2016 that didn’t allow rape or incest exceptions and has described her as “no moderate” over her stance on abortion rights. Haley said during the November GOP primary debate that she would sign a nationwide abortion ban if it could pass Congress.

“She’s saying she wants consensus, tries to sound moderate, and to a lot of people that sounds kind of sensible. But she has very little support from women. … I think that’s a lot to do with the fact that her view on abortion is extreme, and she supports a federal abortion ban as early as six weeks,” said Alexandra LaManna, a former White House spokesperson focused on reproductive rights.

“You can’t get around the fact that this isn’t just a messaging problem for Republicans. They’re selling something that people don’t want to buy,” LaManna added.

In 2022, Roe was overturned less than five months before Election Day. The economy at the time was struggling with inflation and the war in Ukraine was raging, but reproductive rights prevailed as a top issue for voters.

Two years later, Biden faces challenges among voters with the economy and the Middle East. His campaign is working on how to get the president credit for the improvements in inflation. And many progressives and Arab and Muslim voters are threatening to withhold their vote over the president’s pro-Israel stance in its war in Gaza.

Democrats, though, are hopeful that come November, the fight to regain reproductive rights will get voters out to the polls for Biden and perhaps outweigh the other concerns.

“Abortion will be a top issue for voters in 2024 as they continue to see the real-world impacts of the Dobbs decision. It’s no longer theoretical; Americans are hearing heartbreaking stories of women denied medical care and waiting for another Supreme Court decision that could put access to care even further at risk. As it turns out, women like having their rights,” said Drew, a principal at Monument Advocacy.

Harris this week said that women across the U.S. are “concerned about the future of our country,” including “their concern that if their daughter is going to college, will she go to a state where she will have access to health care she might need, including reproductive health?”

“The idea that in some of these states, a ban on abortion includes denying a survivor of rape or incest the ability to make a decision about what happens to their body next. It’s a big, big deal,” Harris said on ABC’s “The View.”

Biden is sure to take his message that “those who support ripping away the rights to choose don’t have a clue about the power of women in America.”

“Now I think they do,” Biden said in November 2022 after the midterm elections. “As I’ve said, women in America made their voices heard, man.”

Democrats have polling on their side.

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll from December showed 79 percent of Americans think doctors rather than courts should have more say about whether a pregnancy poses enough of a threat to the mother to justify an abortion.

Additionally, 80 percent of voters, including 65 percent of Republicans, said they oppose a national abortion ban, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll from June. That poll also showed that 3 in 4 Americans think abortion will be an important issue for them in 2024.

Democrats also have recent electoral history on their side.

Since the midterms, voters in states like Kansas, Michigan, and Ohio rejected or backed various state laws to protect reproductive rights.

Democrats are also focused on highlighting the laws that passed in several red states, like the Idaho near-total abortion ban the Supreme Court allowed to go into effect earlier this month.

They’re trying to appeal to women on a personal level when it comes to abortion, strategists say. And, they’re hoping that gamble will work following the many stories that have come out about the impacts of overturning Roe since the 2022 midterms — when fears that situations like this would arise led women to the polls.

“Everybody has something that they can relate to on this issue. So, whether it’s, this is a huge health risk, and you know somebody who has been impacted by that, or you’ve heard one of those incredibly cruel, scary stories and empathize with it, or you’ve had an abortion yourself,” a former Biden White House official said. “There’s a way that anybody can relate to how Roe being overturned impacts them.”

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