Oct 20, 2022 - Politics

GOP hammers Democrats on abortion in Washington state swing districts

An ad says "too extreme" and accuses  2 candidates of supporting partial-birth abortions, along with, "Abortion is a difficult, private and personal decision. Alicia Rule and Joe Timmons disagree."

Images of a mailer running in the 42nd Legislative District, sponsored by the state Republican Party.

While Republicans locally and nationwide have often emphasized the economy this midterm election cycle, the Washington State Republican Party is trying a different tactic: Attacking swing-district Democrats on abortion.

Why it matters: Since the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Democrats have spent millions of dollars on ads skewering Republicans for wanting to limit abortion access.

  • Republicans are now trying to neutralize an issue they worry could severely damage their election prospects this November, Washington State University professor Cornell Clayton told Axios.

What's happening: The state's Republican Party has sent mailers in several swing district legislative races saying Democratic candidates there support abortion with zero restrictions — a position the mailers describe as "radical" and "too extreme."

  • The ads further state that, "Abortion is a difficult, private and personal decision," while accusing the named Democrats of disagreeing with that statement.

What they're saying: State Rep. Alicia Rule, one of the Democrats targeted by the mailers, wrote in an email to Axios that she supports Washington's current law regarding abortion, which protects the right to end a pregnancy "prior to viability of the fetus, or to protect the pregnant individual's life or health."

  • "Once again, they're lying about my position," wrote Rule, who represents the 42nd Legislative District in Whatcom County.
  • House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) said that by taking this approach, GOP officials are essentially criticizing a majority of Washington’s electorate, since voters approved the state’s current abortion law in 1991.
  • "I guess if the Republicans think the voters of this state are too extreme, then I guess they have a misalignment there," Jinkins said.
  • The state Republican Party didn't respond to requests for comment.

The big picture: Clayton, director of WSU's Thomas S. Foley Institute of Public Policy and Public Service, said he expects more Republicans nationwide to launch these types of attacks on Democrats in the coming weeks.

  • He noted that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) made similar claims against his Democratic challenger, Rep. Val Demings, in a debate Tuesday, with Rubio accusing Demings of being "extreme" and not supporting any abortion restrictions.
  • Demings responded that she supports abortion access until fetus "viability," but did not specify what restrictions she would support, Axios Miami's Martin Vassolo reported.
  • "I think this is clearly a national strategy the Republicans are adopting to neutralize the Democratic attacks on this issue," Clayton said.

Flashback: In May, the national campaign arm for the U.S. Senate Republicans circulated a memo advising GOP candidates to paint Democrats as having extreme views on abortion, following the leak of the Supreme Court's draft ruling.

Zoom out: Democrats, for their part, haven't veered from their strategy of hammering Republicans on abortion in hotly contested races.

  • In some of the same legislative swing districts that have received the GOP mailers, a Democratic-backed independent expenditure group has run TV ads highlighting the Republican candidates' anti-abortion views.

Yes, but: Peter Graves, a GOP consultant based in Washington state, said he's uncertain whether voters will be swayed in either direction based on abortion-related ads right now.

  • "I don't think abortion is weighing on voters' minds at the moment compared to grocery bills or gas prices," Graves wrote in a text message to Axios.

What's next: Ballots go out in the mail this week and must be postmarked or returned to an official ballot drop box by Nov. 8 to be counted.

  • Expect a barrage of ads from all sides between now and then.
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