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Semafor LogoMorgan Chalfant
Morgan Chalfant
politics

Democrats want you thinking about abortion in the voting booth

With Dave Weigel

Morgan and Dave are Political Reporters for Semafor. Sign up for the daily Principals newsletter to get our insider’s guide to American power.

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Title iconThe News
President Biden delivers a speech on abortion in Washington, DC. October 18, 2022.
Reuters

Democrats are redoubling their efforts to keep abortion as a top issue in the midterms, as Republicans see signs voters may be shifting to concerns about the economy and crime in the home stretch.

In a high-profile speech on Tuesday, President Biden promised to immediately submit legislation codifying abortion rights if Democrats hold the House and win two more Senate seats.

“If you care about the right to choose, you’ve got to vote,” he said in Washington.

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Democratic candidates in tight races have been working overtime to keep the Dobbs decision in the midterm conversation, with ads and rallies focused on abortion and warnings that victorious Republicans would seek to ban it.

In Wisconsin, U.S. Senate nominee Mandela Barnes criss-crossed the state this month for a “Ron Against Roe” tour, warning at one stop in Madison that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. could support a federal abortion ban and “wants women to go to jail for making their own decision.” While Barnes campaigned at a diner, Gov. Tony Evers, D-Wis. called a special session at the state capitol to allow a referendum on the state’s 1849 abortion ban.

“Abortion is on the ballot this November,” Evers said, after Republicans quickly gaveled out the session. “We cannot afford to have Wisconsin be the worst state in the union.”

In Oregon, where Biden traveled this past weekend, Democrat Tina Kotek has warned that abortion rights could be rolled back if Republican Christine Drazan wins the three-way contest for governor. (Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat, is running as an independent.)

“Think about who you elect governor, whether or not that governor is prepared to say that they want their state to be pro-choice,” Biden said at a Saturday campaign event for Kotek. “Did you all think you’d be making that decision?”

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In an interview, Kotek said that there “already are Oregonians who’ve been hurt” by the Dobbs decision, living in isolated parts of the state where the closest medical care is in Idaho – a state where Republicans passed a near-total abortion ban.

“The world changed after the US Supreme Court decision,” Kotek said in an interview. “If you listen to my opponents, they’re like: ‘It's fine. Nothing's going wrong. I'm not going to change anything.’ That's just wrong. They are not being honest.”

Drazan, whose campaign has centered on crime, homelessness, and the cost of living, has called the state’s expansive abortion rights “out of the mainstream,” and said she’d veto abortion funding for women who travel to Oregon for the procedure.

Title iconMorgan and Dave's View

Polls have consistently shown Democrats with an advantage over Republicans on abortion. But there have been some signs the issue is becoming less salient in the midterms, especially as voters continue to express concerns about inflation and the overall economic outlook.

Results from a New York Times/Siena College poll released earlier this week showed 5% of likely voters nationally ranking abortion as the most important problem facing the country today, whereas 26% named the economy and 18% named inflation or the cost of living. The same survey showed Republicans making double-digit gains among independent female voters.

The issue’s importance might vary from race to race, however, depending on whether an abortion ban is in effect or looks more likely. In Michigan, for example, Democrats could get a lift from Proposition 3, an amendment on the ballot that would enshrine the right to abortion in state law. A pre-Roe abortion ban is currently blocked by a judge from taking effect in the state, but that could change on appeal.

“This is clearly still a top issue in Michigan,” said Democratic Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow.

Title iconRoom for Disagreement

Republicans can point to recent surveys that show them gaining ground and abortion fading as a political issue, but Democrats can point to actual results.

The party won a New York special election in the Hudson Valley swing district against a strong GOP candidate earlier this year – a win widely attributed to the candidate emphasizing abortion in the race. Democrats also overperformed in losing special election races in Nebraska and Minnesota this summer. And in deep-red Kansas, voters turned out in droves to vote down a proposed state amendment that would have cleared the way for an abortion ban.

“Every time people are going to vote, it flies in the face of public polling on the salience of this issue,” a Democratic House strategist said. “The Republicans are relying on the fact we haven’t had voters vote in a while on this.”

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