Aug 31, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The big scrub

Illustration of an elephant trunk holding a pink rubber eraser.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Republican candidates around the country are trying to disappear the hardline anti-abortion stances they took during their primaries.

Why it matters: It's longstanding practice for candidates in both parties to modify their rhetoric for general-election audiences, but this year's messaging gymnastics are next-level.

  • Some GOP nominees also are curbing their focus on voter-fraud conspiracies about the 2020 election and other far right or Trump-centered topics.

Zoom in: Big wins in a Kansas abortion referendum and a special House election in New York, in which Democrat Pat Ryan made abortion a centerpiece issue, have emboldened Democrats.

  • Republicans initially argued that abortion wouldn't significantly boost Democrats.
  • But in battlegrounds in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina, GOP candidates are scrubbing abortion language from campaign websites and adjusting rhetoric on the trail.

Details: Blake Masters, the GOP Senate nominee in Arizona, removed language that said, "I am 100% pro-life," per NBC News.

  • House candidates Tom Barrett of Michigan, Christian Castelli in North Carolina, and Barbara Kirkmeyer in Colorado also removed language from their websites. (Kirkmeyer’s campaign said it “recently completed a complete redesign of Barb’s website. Instead of addressing many issues, we are focused on the three issues in which voters express the most interest.”)
  • Minnesota's GOP nominee for governor, Scott Jensen, changed the copy on his website to water down his abortion message, removing lines including, "He believes in the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death."
  • In Oregon, GOP gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan scrubbed her website's issues page, which had previously touted pro-life bonafides. But her campaign says she’s not “shied away from her views.” Her opponent, Betsy Johnson, recently put out an ad calling Drazan "too extreme for Oregon" because "Drazan wants to make abortion illegal."

Democratic gubernatorial nominees in Nevada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Oregon are all running ads on abortion.

  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) blasted out a list of Republicans who have shifted their position on abortion and is placing a billboard ad at the Michigan state fair against GOP candidates' "extreme agenda” on the issue.
  • The Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC, meanwhile, is preparing a round of abortion-focused ads accusing the party of trying to restrict rights and freedoms.

What they're saying: “We’ll make sure voters see and hear what Republicans have said in their own words — and if they try to hide from their record it will only reinforce that they cannot be trusted," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Nora Keefe.

The other side: Republicans say if it were up to Democrats there'd be no abortion restrictions, saying that's extreme.

  • Republican National Committee spokesperson Nicole Morales told Axios that the majority of Americans "do not support Democrats’ extreme taxpayer-funded abortion agenda, and Republicans are simply exposing their lies.”

Zoom out: Abortion isn't the only issue Republicans are trying to send to the back burner between now and November.

  • Pennsylvania's GOP gubernatorial nominee, Doug Mastriano, deleted 14 videos from his Facebook page in which he touted far-right positions, including referring to climate change as “pop science."
  • "Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox has deleted his account on Gab, a social media platform known as an online hub for hate speech and white nationalists, and his campaign website no longer notes his fight against certifying the 2020 presidential election results," per the Washington Post.
  • In Wisconsin, GOP gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels erased mention of his endorsement from Donald Trump, deleting the words “Trump-endorsed” from his website bio. (He later added the words back in after being called out.)
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