Apr 2, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats dream of turning Florida blue with abortion rights boost

Illustration of a red and blue check mark in the center of an outline of the shape of Florida.

Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

The Florida Supreme Court's seismic rulings on abortion Monday unleashed a frenzy of campaigning among Democrats eager to turn the Sunshine State back into the nation's most important battleground.

Why it matters: Abortion rights have won in every state they've appeared on the ballot since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, consistently overperforming President Biden and juicing turnout for Democrats.

Catch up quick: In a pair of rulings Monday, Florida's highest court cleared the way for a near-total abortion ban to take effect May 1 — while also giving voters a chance to undo the restrictions in November. The ban will remain in place until at least January.

  • The ballot effort, if successful, would enshrine access to abortion until fetal viability in the state's constitution.
  • In the meantime, the six-week abortion ban "will affect more women seeking abortions in the first trimester than any other single abortion ban to date," the Washington Post reported.

Zoom in: Within 24 hours of the rulings, the Biden campaign and other top Democrats were rapidly mobilizing — and fundraising — to ensure voters understood the stakes of November's vote.

  • Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both issued searing statements blaming Republicans — including former President Trump — for Florida's new abortion restrictions.
  • Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez released a memo declaring that Florida — which Trump carried by 370,000 votes in 2020 — was now a "winnable" state.
  • House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) flew to Florida for a press conference Tuesday and declared the state "ground zero" in the fight for abortion rights.

The intrigue: The Biden campaign also released a new ad Tuesday featuring Trump's boasts about getting Roe v. Wade "terminated" — but the spot will not run in Florida.

  • That could be a sign that while the campaign wants the state to be competitive in November, it's not yet prepared to invest serious cash in what many Florida Democrats believe is a pipe dream.

Between the lines: Matt Isbell, a Democratic elections analyst, tells Axios that operatives are excited not only for the abortion referendum itself, but for the "on-the-ground" infrastructure the ballot effort will generate.

  • "There is a well-founded belief that a lot of money will come into the state now, and that's going to be good for the entire Democratic column," Isbell said.

Context: Even with a 15-week ban, Florida has been a more accessible state for women seeking abortions than its nearest neighbors — Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

  • Women in much of the South already have to travel long distances to receive an abortion. Tighter restrictions in Florida would mean they'd need to travel even farther — potentially as far north as Virginia, depending on how far along they are in their pregnancies.

Reality check: Republicans in Florida have a staggering lead in active voter registration and a robust political infrastructure, with Gov. Ron DeSantis winning re-election by nearly 20 points in 2022.

Florida voters also have a history of embracing progressive ballot measures, such as restoring felons' voting rights after they've completed all terms of their sentences and raising the state's minimum wage, while still voting for Republican candidates.

  • "Democrats are always looking for a silver bullet" to counter their voter registration deficit, progressive activist Thomas Kennedy tells Axios. "There are voters, like me ... who will march to the voting booth, vote 'yes' on [the abortion question], and leave the rest of the ballot blank."
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