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Updated Aug 9, 2023, 9:20am EDT
politics

Ohio voters could unofficially decide the fate of abortion rights tonight

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The News

It’s the final busy election day of August — a few local races across the country, one bitter primary in Mississippi, and a fight over democracy itself in Ohio. That last one is the contest of the day, with major long-term implications, as the outcome could make future constitutional amendments — including one aimed at restoring abortion rights that’s scheduled for the ballot later this year — much harder to pass via referendum.

Here’s what to watch, with a brief catch-up on the campaigns and tips on how to read the early vote count.

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The Races

Ohio. There’s just one thing on the ballot today: Issue 1, the Republican-backed effort to make amending the state’s constitution more difficult by requiring that initiatives get signatures from all 88 Ohio counties, and pass with 60% of the vote. We covered it last week, and the final stretch of early voting was torrid, with turnout running ahead of last year’s final August primary.

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The major parties have driven some of that turnout; elected Republicans have campaigned almost unanimously to pass Issue 1, and the shrunken bench of Democrats stumped for the “no” campaign. The opposition is led by the One Person, One Vote coalition, with funding from pro-abortion rights groups and the ACLU, which has framed the whole election as a way for conservatives to block the scheduled November vote on abortion rights.

“They’ve lost the argument, when it comes to abortion,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland told “no” organizers at a rally in Columbus on Friday. “The fact is that the people of Ohio believe in a woman’s right to choose; and given the chance to express that at the polls in November, they’re going to do it.”

Republicans disputed the centrality of abortion to this election; Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Issue 1’s champion in the party, tells crowds that everything from gun rights to the viability of their farms is at stake.

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But a lot of the muscle and money for “yes” has come from anti-abortion groups — still outspent, by the end of the campaign, but far more competitive than they’d been in last year’s Kansas and Michigan votes, which abortion rights groups won by wide margins.

Supporters drummed up votes at churches, and they amplified a campaign to warn that child gender surgeries would multiply if the funders of the “no” campaign prevailed (their argument is based on what fact checkers have described as a misleading reading of the abortion initiative). On Sunday, at a “Catholics for Catholics” rally in Cincinnati, they heard from Chloe Cole, a de-transitioner who has lobbied for bans on gender medicine for minors, merging the two campaigns.

Cincinnati’s Hamilton County is now reliably Democratic, and if this vote falls along mostly partisan lines, “no” will win easily there. Watch Loran and Mahoning counties, in eastern Ohio, to see whether the “yes” campaign has built on Republican gains there since 2016.

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Polls close at 7:30 p.m. eastern time.

Mississippi. Republicans hold every major office here, and Democrats only think they can make a serious run at one of them — the governor’s office, which Brandon Presley is trying to take from Gov. Tate Reeves.

Neither man has a credible primary challenger, but Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who barely had any opposition four years ago, is facing state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who’s accused the incumbent of failing to use his power fully to advance a conservative agenda.

That’s what McDaniel wanted the race to be about. Hosemann has declined to debate the challenger, best known nationally for a near-miss primary loss to the late Sen. Thad McConnell in 2014. He was felled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s successful single-cycle effort to keep hard-right candidates from winning primaries, and many of his previous supporters have sat this race out; Ted Cruz is a notable exception. McDaniel raised less than $170,000, while Hoseman raised nearly twice that, deploying his war chest and incumbency to freeze out the challenger.

“They’ve made fun of the car I drive,” McDaniel told supporters in a Facebook town hall last week. “They’ve made fun of my ego. They’ve made fun of calling me a liar.”

McDaniel craved a debate with Hosemann, focused on the powers of the office, but he never got it. After McDaniel claimed that Hosemann had led an abortion clinic, the state released, for the first time, paperwork revealing that the health clinic he worked for didn’t provide abortions at that time. When a pro-McDaniel PAC poured resources into the race, Hosemann’s campaign filed a complaint, and Attorney Gen. Lynn Fitch announced an investigation.

“Do we really think a Washington dark money PAC cares about Mississippi citizens?” Hosemann asked, in a statement. He skipped an all-candidate event last week, losing the endorsement of the host city’s mayor, but headed into Tuesday as the favorite.

Polls close at 7 p.m. local time, 8 p.m. eastern. If the Hosemann-McDaniel primary is close, that’ll be evident along the Gulf Coast, which McDaniel narrowly lost in his 2014 primary.

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Notable

Other reporters who headed to Ohio in the final stretch saw a competitive race unfolding.

  • In The Atlantic, Russell Berman finds one Democratic organizer calling it “kind of an easy campaign” — not much need for persuasion — while the ex-GOP congressman leading the state Chamber of Commerce calls the timing “not ideal.” In the Washington Post, Patrick Marley looks at how the debate unfolded at voters’ doors. And in the New York Times, Michael Wines investigates the “growing use of moves that defy norms of democratic behavior” in red states.
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