Commentary

The Dems’ 2022 momentum just shifted. GOP overreach on abortion helped power it

Tuesday’s primaries provided a clear sign that the fight over access will be key in November

August 26, 2022 12:39 pm

Pennsylvania state Rep. Joanna McClinton speaks with the press. Gov. Tom Wolf hosted a press conference with the first lady, members of Planned Parenthood and other public officials discussing the potential dismantling of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision to protect access to abortion and reaffirmed his stance to protect abortion access in Pennsylvania, on May 4, 2022 in Philadelphia. (Commonwealth Media Services)

This commentary originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Has the right’s electoral gamble on abortion failed? With the midterms a little less than three months away, there’s some reason for encouragement.

Consider these three developments alone:

The results of a recount in Kansas this week reaffirmed that voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have stripped residents of the Sunflower State of the constitutional right to an abortion, the Kansas Reflector reported. As Axios further reported, voters rejected the Republican-crafted amendment by about 165,000 votes, with 922,000 ballots cast. That means that even GOP voters opposed it.

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In a bellwether congressional district in upstate New York, voters in Tuesday’s primary chose a pro-abortion rights Democrat over an anti-abortion Republican. As the Washington Post reports, the race between Democrat Pat Ryan and Republican Marc Molinaro was seen as a key early test of the pro-abortion rights messaging that Democrats have leaned heavily into since the U.S. Supreme Court toppled Roe v. Wade in June. The district went for former President Donald Trump in 2016. President Joe Biden flipped it in 2020, according to the Post.

In must-win Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, an anti-abortion hardliner who has called abortion “a national catastrophe,” and is backing a six-week abortion ban, without exceptions, has gone silent on the issue. As the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported this week, a coalition of physicians is pressing him to break that silence so that Keystone State voters have no misconceptions about where he stands. The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported this week that women are outpacing men in voter registration. And of those who have registered since the high court’s decision, there are four Democrats for every Republican, the newspaper reported.

People were feeling helpless after Roe ... The Republicans just gave them something to do.

– Mustafa Rashed, of Bellevue Strategies

“People were feeling helpless after Roe,” Mustafa Rashed, the president and CEO of Philadelphia-based Bellevue Strategies, told me in July after Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled General Assembly pushed through a constitutional amendment package that includes language declaring there’s neither a constitutional right to abortion nor a right to public funding for the procedure in the state’s foundational document.

“The Republicans just gave them something to do,” Rashed said.

If anything, the electoral ground has become even more favorable since, with Politico asserting that Democratic momentum has increased since Tuesday’s round of primary contests.

I will stipulate that Election Day is a long way away — and anything can, and likely will, happen before the votes are counted. But there is no doubt that the fight over abortion has energized Democrats. And it has, as New York Magazine’s Intelligencer observed, had a transformational impact on a midterm election in which President Joe Biden’s party was widely expected to take a drubbing.

But aware of the opportunity presented them, Democrats have shifted their messaging accordingly. In the weeks since the Supreme Court’s ruling, Democrats spent nearly eight times as much as Republicans on abortion-related ads in key contests, the New York Times reported. And in “the closest Senate and governors’ contests, Republicans have spent virtually nothing countering the Democratic offensive,” according to the Times.

“Rarely has an issue been handed on a silver platter to Democrats that is so clear-cut,” Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg told the Times. “It took an election that was going to be mostly about inflation and immigration and made it also about abortion.”

Further enhancing the Democrats’ chances is research showing that abortion access could (and, indeed, has) swing persuadable Republicans to the Democratic column. Swing voters were critical to the Democrats’ chances in 2018. Support for abortion access remains strong among Black and Latino voters — also key to the Democratic coalition, as Intelligencer’s Ed Kilgore wrote this week.

Indeed, new polling data by the advocacy organizations Mi Familia Vota and UnidosUS show that 73 percent of Pennsylvania Latinos believe abortion should remain legal, no matter their personal beliefs on the issue. The finding punctures the traditional view that heavily Catholic Latinos would come down against abortion access, pollster Gary Segura observed.

As is the case with any midterm contest, turnout will be determinative.

And right now — and unless something changes — the momentum is swinging the Democrats’ way. While it’s entirely possible Republicans could still prevail, prognosticators are already dialing back predictions of a so-called “red wave” in November.

That’s the good news. But there’s still plenty of work left to do.

“If you support the right to choose, this is a golden opportunity,” Rashed told me in July. And so far, it looks like Democrats have seized it.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

John L. Micek is the editor-in-chief of Colorado Newsline sister outlet Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

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