May 4, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Roe leak reshapes election campaigns for Democrats

Illustration of a donkey with a gavel in its mouth

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Abortion politics have begun to reshape the Democrats' campaign messaging and tactics only 48 hours after the epic leak previewing the end of Roe v. Wade.

Why it matters: Arguments around protecting women's freedoms, privacy, health and safety are being weaponized — not just against Republicans for the midterm elections but against some fellow Democrats in primary fights.

Details: In South Texas, progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros — who's hoping to unseat the more conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar in a Democratic primary runoff this month — posted a video Wednesday asking party leaders to withdraw their support for Cuellar.

Cisneros called the incumbent "the last anti-choice Democrat in Congress," Axios' Astrid Galván reports.

  • With the majority on the line, Cisneros argued, Cuellar could become "the deciding vote on the future of reproductive rights in this country, and we just cannot afford that risk."

¡Adiós Sinema! reads the send line in an email Wednesday from advocacy group Voto Latino.

  • It said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) "has doomed our hopes of federal legislation" to save abortion rights because she's "choosing the Senate filibuster over the 36 million U.S. women who could soon lose abortion access, including 1.5 million women in her home state of Arizona."
  • The email urges its members to "rush a donation to help us make sure Sinema never holds office again." (The senator isn't up for re-election until 2024.)
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also reiterated Tuesday that Sinema should face a primary following the news of her rejection of gutting the filibuster.

In California, Democratic Rep. Josh Harder told supporters in an email Wednesday that "my race could determine the fate of reproductive rights in America. ... I'm one of just five Democrats protecting the House majority from a Republican takeover."

  • A takeover, Harder said, would lead to "a total ban on abortion in America."
  • In Missouri, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Lucas Kunce used the news to remind voters of the current roadblocks getting in the way of codifying Roe v. Wade.
  • "Kill the filibuster. Keep abortion legal. End the Big Brother attacks," he said.

The intrigue: One source who works closely with Democratic candidates and party media firms told Axios the immediate conversations with campaigns whose candidates support abortion rights were revealing.

  • "By now, every single woman running for Congress has definitely started on a choice ad," the source said.

What they're saying: Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who leads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Axios that abortion will be "a new energizing factor now that it's no longer abstract; it's very real."

  • "New Hampshire is probably the most pro-choice state in the union," Peters said, positioning Sen. Maggie Hassan, the Democratic incumbent who supports abortion rights, against "Republican candidates who are 180 degrees different."
  • "That will be a very important and salient issue in New Hampshire to help us make sure we we hold that state," Peters said.
  • He added: "Even states like Arizona, polls show that the population of Arizona is very strongly pro-choice."
  • He predicated that would help the Democratic incumbent in the swing state: "Obviously, that’s [Sen.] Mark Kelly's race."

What we're hearing: The pivot provides Vice President Kamala Harris a crucial opportunity to recast her role as a closer for Biden and their party.

He standing has faltered amid staff turnover and some public missteps.

  • The vice president is expected to take on a higher profile and serve as a leading voice for the White House and Democrats on abortion rights messaging.
  • Her speech to Emily's List on Tuesday, as well as a Democratic National Committee fundraising pitch, are early examples.
  • Harris became a national figure, in part, with her 2018 grilling of Brett Kavanaugh about his views on abortion during his Supreme Court nomination hearings.
  • Harris is expected to add more events to her schedule in the coming weeks.

The other side: Republicans, meanwhile, remain largely focused on the leak rather than the substance of the draft decision.

  • Both House and Senate Republicans circulated talking points to members on Tuesday as they work on developing a larger strategy of attack.
  • Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Republican conference, sent a memo to her members — obtained by Axios — detailing facts about how developed babies are at weeks six, 10 and 15.
  • It also provided update polling and suggestions about how to attack Democrats on the issue.

What we're watching: Female lawmakers in state legislatures around the country — on both sides of the aisle — may take on elevated roles around debates about abortion rights specifically, and women's protections more broadly.

  • In a special-election upset Tuesday in Michigan's state House, a firmly Republican open seat went to Democrat Carol Glanville.
  • Her GOP opponent, Robert Regan, already known for using antisemitic language and spreading conspiracy theories, had faced some of the harshest backlash for comments about rape.
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