May 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Roe is reshaping America’s political landscape

Illustration of a caduceus spearing a map of the United States.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Abortion's biggest political impact this year may play out in a handful of Republican-held House races in blue-state suburbs, Senate contests in Nevada and New Hampshire and governor's races in swing states with GOP-led legislatures, consultants and activists tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democrats and Republicans are studying the midterm map to gauge in which races an anticipated Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade could cause the greatest disruption.

The big picture: Democrats see a general-election opportunity to regain footing after Republicans have seized advantage on inflation, crime, immigration and some cultural issues.

  • But the issue won't have an equal impact in every race.
  • And abortion also plays a role in primary contests — including in Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina.

The state of play: In New York — where redistricting lines are still up in the air adding to the uncertainty — two GOP-held seats in Long Island, the 1st and 2nd districts, could be most vulnerable.

In Orange County, California, GOP incumbent Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel also could be top targets for Democrats in November, strategists said.

  • Districts with large university populations, including North Carolina's 13th District (now held by Republican Rep. Ted Budd); Michigan's 7th (Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin); and Oregon's 4th (Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio) also may be impacted if students register and turn out locally.
  • Slotkin is running for re-election in a competitive district where abortion messaging may resonate with abortion rights supporters.
  • "It's not theoretical for Michiganders — the moment Roe is overturned, the law snaps back into effect and the consequences will be immediate," her spokesperson Austin Cook told Axios.

Abortion politics also are shaping primary campaigning in South Texas, in the Democratic runoff between Rep. Henry Cuellar and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros in the 28th District.

  • In North Carolina, abortion rights progressives are squaring off against the Democratic Party's few remaining anti-abortion moderates.
  • An example is the primary race between Don Davis and Erica Smith in the 1st District.

Among this year's competitive Senate contests featuring vulnerable Democratic incumbents, analysts said New Hampshire and Nevada stand out.

That's because they're strongly pro-choice states where Roe politics could help those incumbents.

  • And in Pennsylvania's high-stakes GOP Senate primary, the two leading rivals, former President Trump-backed Mehmet Oz and David McCormick, have watched a late surge by Kathy Barnette.
  • Her far-right stances appeal to elements of Trump's base — and she's been outspoken about her anti-abortion views, as someone who was born as a product of rape.

In governors' contests, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are three battlegrounds where Democrats anticipate the politics of abortion will be at the forefront through November.

  • Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, as well as its Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel, have pledged not to enforce the state’s “draconian” abortion ban if Roe is overturned.
  • In Pennsylvania, the current Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, has vetoed several anti-abortion laws coming from Republicans in the state legislature.
  • During a recent campaign stop in northeastern Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, the state’s AG and only Democratic candidate vying to replace Wolf, promised to veto any anti-abortion measures too, if he wins.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has promised to veto anything preventing access to health care and reproductive rights.

What we're watching: One of the Democrats’ largest research organizations, American Bridge 21st Century, has changed its midterms strategy since the draft opinion leaked.

It's also launched a website tracking Senate, gubernatorial, attorney general and down-ballot races across 10 states around Republican candidates’ anti-abortion positions, messages and laws.

  • The group is enlisting influencers to market the website and educate voters in swing states about where GOP lawmakers stand on abortion rights.
  • Republican strategists tell Axios their party is at risk if its nominees are seen as too extreme, recalling the late Todd Akin's run for Senate in Missouri.
  • Akin infamously said cases of "legitimate rape" rarely result in pregnancy, because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

The other side: Republicans argue abortion isn't as much of a priority to general election voters as the quality-of-life issues that are their focus.

  • "Democrats are desperate for a lifeline, but the problem for them is that families are thinking on a daily basis how much more expensive it's gotten to put food on the table or fill up the tank," said Calvin Moore, a spokesperson for the House GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund.

The bottom line: "It's bound to help Democrats by closing the enthusiasm gap, somewhat broadly," Dave Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, told Axios.

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