May 4, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Dems look to abortion fallout to salvage midterms

Protestors are seen outside the Supreme Court after the leak of a draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.
Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry (left) leads demonstrators outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden and Democrats will try to use their base's new nightmare scenario — a repeal of federal abortion rights — to salvage midterm elections in which inflation, crime and COVID-19 malaise have made losing control of Congress all but a foregone conclusion.

Why it matters: One big question is whether they can have that impact between now and November, or have to wait for 2024.

  • The answer is partly in whether key Democratic blocs — including young voters, suburban women and voters of color — care enough about preserving abortion rights.
  • Democrats need them to overcome their apathy in a non-presidential election year and turn out this fall with the kind of force needed to make a difference.
  • Swing states, states with key Senate and governor's races and those where abortion could soon be banned are especially in play.

What we're hearing: Biden plans to seize on the expected ruling to sharpen the contrast with congressional Republicans, a senior Biden adviser told Axios.

He'll also aim to convince the public that voting in November is the best shot to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into federal law.

The president, aides say, is also troubled by what the repeal of Roe could mean in many states: diminished access to safe abortions.

  • Democrats hope the stark language used in Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion — obtained by Politico and confirmed by the court itself — can finally convince voters access to abortion is, indeed, imperiled.
  • “If this was more nuanced, it might be harder to operationalize, but they came in with a sledgehammer,” the adviser said. “That makes it a lot easier.
  • “Cycle after cycle, it hasn’t broken through because people think Roe wouldn’t be overturned. This is something that has a real opportunity to break through.”

Between the lines: Polling suggests the voters most passionate about protecting abortion rights also historically have been the more reliable in terms of midterm turnout, including Black women and liberal, college-educated women.

  • But polls also suggest it may be harder for Democrats to use the issue to turn out working-class, male or Hispanic voters.

What they're saying: “We have a real deficit in terms of energy on our side,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster.

"Our base is less energized than their base," Lake said of Republicans, "and now young voters and independent women are going to be energized."

  • All In Together, a nonpartisan women’s civic education and leadership organization, in March surveyed how in theory abortion restrictions could impact voter turnout among various groups. The survey was administered by Emerson College Polling and advised by Lake Research Partners.
  • All In Together's CEO, Lauren Leader, told Axios that when it comes to the implications of the expected ruling on the political landscape, "It's uncharted territory."
  • She said that's partly because Americans younger than 50 have lived in a time when U.S. laws have overwhelmingly expanded personal liberties and broad-based rights, not revoked them.
  • This shift, she said, could be a game-changer, and it's too soon to know exactly how.

Doug Sosnik, former President Clinton's political director, said there's a swath of people who think both parties are extreme. He said those folks could help the Democrats — if not this fall, then in 2024.

  • "That group thinks these extreme positions that Republicans are taking — particularly on social issues, which can be effective in an off-year election — they’re repulsed by that in a presidential election," Sosnik told Axios.
  • "When they turn out in higher numbers, this will work against Republicans."
  • McKenzie Wilson, press secretary for Data for Progress, a progressive polling organization, told Axios: “Democrats have a critical, but simple, contrast to make this November: Democrats believe that women deserve to have autonomy over their own bodies. Republicans don’t."

The other side: The National Republican Senatorial Committee circulated a memo Tuesday afternoon, obtained by Axios, also laying out how candidates and lawmakers can maximize their messaging on the issue.

  • Republicans reacted to the potential repeal of the 1973 landmark decision, long one of their most important goals, by decrying the leak of a Supreme Court draft decision — not by celebrating what would be the legal outcome. “The story today is an effort by someone on the inside to discredit the institution,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a news conference.
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