Senate GOP Campaign Chief Says Candidates Need To Tailor Abortion Messages To States

The senator in charge of making sure Republicans win back control of the Senate said Thursday that GOP candidates need to adapt their abortion messages to their states this fall but also include widely supported exceptions to abortion bans.

“It is important. I think that’s a lesson learned from ’22 to get the messaging right and also for our candidates to state where they stand on the issue,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of the Senate GOP.

“We’re advising our candidates to take a position on abortion that best matches the state they represent. That’s what we’re telling our candidates, and we’ll let them decide where they stand on it,” Daines said.

He made the remarks at a breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision threw the abortion issue back to states, many of which enacted bans of varying durations and restrictiveness, Republicans have been struggling to blunt the political fallout.

In March, House Republicans at their annual retreat grappled with supporting in vitro fertilization, which often includes discarding unsuccessful fertilized eggs, and the idea held by many anti-abortion party members that life begins at conception.

In the Senate, Republicans currently hold 49 seats and need to flip two — or only one, if presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump wins — to take back control. They are the odds-on favorite to return to power, given the number and particular seats Democrats are defending this year.

Daines said Republicans were aware, through what he called extensive polling and focus group efforts, that voters wanted exceptions to abortion bans.

“Be clear on the exceptions of rape, incest and the life of the mother, and make the point that most Americans believe we should have reasonable limits on late-term abortions,” Daines said the NRSC was telling candidates.

Almost a dozen states have abortion bans that range from six to 22 weeks of pregnancy; 25 states and the District of Columbia have retained allowing abortions beyond 22 weeks.

But 14 states have near-total bans, regardless of how far along a pregnancy may be, with varying degrees of exceptions like those mentioned by Daines. Abortion rights advocates say those exceptions — like what constitutes a danger to the life of the mother — are often too vague to actually provide much relief. For example, abortions may still not be available where there are few doctors, and they are worried about being prosecuted if there is doubt about the danger to the mother. Additionally, rape exceptions can be undermined by the requirement that victims report the rape to law enforcement, whether they want to or not.

Daines did not offer insight into the NRSC’s guidance to GOP candidates running in states with narrower exceptions than rape, incest and the life of the mother.

He was bullish, however, on the GOP’s chances for success this year, but, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), also tempered expectations. In 2022, Republicans had been expected to gain seats; instead, Democrats ended up winning one additional seat.

Asked his forecast for how many seats Republicans would hold after November, Daines said, “51,” the bare majority needed to control the Senate when the party does not have the White House as well.

“I will let you all go through and analyze the races and decide what numbers you want to put on it. All I know is what matters the most is the majority, and 51 is what we’re focused on,” he said.

“You will not hear me, from now until Nov. 5, say anything but 51. That is the majority, that is what puts the gavel in the hands of the new Republican leader,” he added.

Daines then turned his attention to voters and said they are focused on three major issues that he said favor Republicans: border security, inflation and crime.

He also dismissed concerns Republicans would be hurt by Democrats portraying them as soft on Russia and Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. Aid to Ukraine was held up for six months by objections from Republicans, and some in the GOP, including potential vice presidential nominee Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), have echoed the Kremlin’s rhetoric about the war.

Daines said it was fair to ask what the United States’ objectives were for its involvement.

“I think the pro-Putin thing is Democrat spin,” he said. He noted most Republicans in the Senate ended up supporting the $61 billion in aid for Ukraine approved recently.

“You saw a strong bipartisan [vote] but also a strong Republican vote on that package,” he said.