Sunday marks six months until November’s midterm elections, when Democrats will be defending their razor-thin majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate.
And over the past week, Democratic politicians running in this year’s elections in droves have spotlighted their efforts to defend keeping abortion legal.
Their push comes in the wake of news that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is likely to overturn the landmark nearly half century old Roe v. Wade ruling, which rocked the political world. “GOP Extremists Want to Ban Abortion with NO Exceptions,” screamed the headline of an email from the Democratic National Committee on Thursday.
Democrats face historical headwinds and a bruising political climate fueled by soaring inflation, rising crime, and a well-publicized southern border crisis, which are epitomized by President Biden’s flagging approval ratings. But party strategists see a silver lining in the seismic prospect of the loss of legalized abortion if Roe is overturned and the issue returns to state legislatures.
Demonstrators protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court, Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Washington. The traditionally insular Supreme Court is about to face the full force of public pressure and abortion politics. Justices are deciding whether to throw out the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. A leaked draft opinion suggests the conservative justices are prepared to overturn the 1973 opinion that gives women legal access to the procedure.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
It may offer Democrats a chance to alter the campaign conversation, energize the left-leaning base, and win back key female and suburban voters who helped the Democrats win back the House in 2018 but appeared to cross party lines in some 2020 congressional contests and again in GOP victories in elections in Virginia and New Jersey last November.
But the jury is still out on whether the overturning of the abortion ruling would overturn the midterm elections. Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the non-partisan Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, stressed that “I think it’s too soon to tell” if the likelihood of the high court overturning Roe v. Wade would be a campaign game changer.”
“Hypothetically, Roe going away could provide Democrats with a needed shot in the arm. But we can’t just automatically assume it would change the basic contours of the midterm elections,” he emphasized.
While there’s general agreement among Democrats that overturning Roe v. Wade may help Democrats soften some of the blows they’re expected to take in the battle for control of Congress, few believe it will be enough to turn the tide against what’s expected to be a brutal midterm election for the majority party.
A veteran Democratic strategist, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely, predicted that the abortion issue would “help on the edges” but said a major plunge in gas prices and in migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border “would be more beneficial.”
But this doesn’t mean Democrats aren’t already emphasizing the issue.
“We can’t afford to elect another anti-choice Senator. I am the only candidate that will defend reproductive rights and work to codify Roe v. Wade into law,” tweeted first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, who faces a potentially challenging re-election this November in a key swing state.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, another first-term Democrat from another crucial general election battleground state who has also been targeted by Republicans, took aim at former state attorney Gen. Adam Laxalt, the front-runner for the Republican Senate nomination in the Silver State.
After Laxalt emphasized that overturning Roe v. Wade would “constitute an historic victory for the sanctity of life and the principles of democratic self-determination,” the senator fired back, charging Laxalt wants “Roe v. Wade overturned so he can strip away a woman’s right to choose in Nevada and across the country. He stands against the vast majority of Nevadans who are pro-choice.”
Wisconsin state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who’s running to challenge GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, traveled to the Supreme Court to shoot what appears to be the first Senate campaign ad since the news broke.
“It looks like Ron Johnson is going to get exactly what he wants,” Godlewski says in the new spot that started running on Wednesday. “Overturning turning Roe v. Wade. Reinstating Wisconsin’s cruel abortion ban and putting doctors in jail.”
The comments from Cortez Masto and Hassan and the TV commercial from Godlewski are three high profile examples of a rising chorus of Democratic attacks on the Republican rivals over the issue.
The Democrats’ arguments are backed by a slew of national polling that indicates that a solid majority of Americans don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. According to a Fox News national poll conducted just before reports of the landmark ruling’s potential demise, 63% of registered voters — including more than three quarters of Democrats, nearly two-thirds of independents, and more than half of Republicans — said they’d like to see the Supreme Court abortion ruling stand.
Many Republican politicians over the past week have been reluctant to discuss the prospect of the conservative justices scrapping the sweeping abortion ruling, and instead, spotlight the severity of the unprecedented leak of the high court’s initial draft opinion. But some on the right point out that having the issue firmly back in the spotlight would energize the social conservative base of the GOP, where intensity has always been very high.
“The abortion debate is energizing for both parties,” Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Family Leader, a top Iowa based social conservative organization, told Fox News. “Don’t be surprised if this sudden fury swings voters Republican in the Midterms — not only because of enthusiasm over life, but also to make sure Democrats can’t codify the abortion extremism they’re shouting for.”
In some high-profile upcoming GOP primaries, the issue instantly took center stage.
Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, left, accompanied by former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Greensburg, Pa., Friday, May 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor and one of the front-runners for the GOP Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, was targeted by top rivals in a debate on Wednesday over past abortions comments.
And former Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who’s facing an uphill challenge as he tries to defeat Republican conservative Gov. Brian Kemp in a May 24 primary, stressed on Thursday that “I’m calling on Brian Kemp to join me in calling for an immediate special session of the legislature to ban abortion in Georgia after Roe v. Wade is overturned.”
And Perdue, who enjoys the backing of former President Donald Trump, argued that “you are either going to fight for the sanctity of life or you’re not.”
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS
Kemp, in 2019, signed into law a measure that would ban abortions after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat. The law, commonly known as the “heartbeat law,” has been blocked by a federal appeals court ruling.
The governor this week touted that “under my leadership, Georgia will remain a state that values life at all stages, and as we anticipate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Georgians should rest assured that I will continue to fight for the strongest pro-life law in the country.”
Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.