In the days since Kansans overwhelmingly voted to preserve abortion access in their state, Democrats have launched a bevy of ads in key statewide elections blasting their Republican opponents for opposing legal abortion.
The ads have come in Arizona and Michigan, two major swing states who held their primaries on Tuesday. In both states, the legality of abortion is an open question and is being actively litigated after the Supreme Court repealed the national right to abortion access. And the result of this fall’s gubernatorial races could determine whether or not those states allow abortion for years to come.
In Michigan, Democrats’ new ad shows newly minted GOP nominee Tudor Dixon repeatedly saying she supports banning abortion even in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. And in Arizona, multiple ads portray newly nominated GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters as a “dangerous” anti-abortion extremist, while Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs pledges to “protect a woman’s right to choose” in her first ad of the general election.
Those ads look to paint Republicans as extremists on abortion, zeroing in not on their broad opposition to abortion access but also on how unwilling some GOP candidates have been to offer exemptions to abortion bans in cases of rape, incest, and in some cases, even the life of the mother.
“Kansas voters have delivered a resounding message: Republicans’ attacks on a woman’s right to make our own health care decision will be answered at the ballot box—and that’s bad news for GOP Senate candidates who have wasted no time in staking out dangerous positions that would make abortion illegal without exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Commitee spokesperson Nora Keefe told VICE News.
A new Arizona Senate ad from the Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC exemplifies this strategy.
“Three years ago, I had an ectopic pregnancy. If I didn’t make it into the OR within a couple minutes, I was going to bleed out and die. But according to Blake Masters, that's just too bad,” says a Phoenix mother identified as Brianna. “He wants to ban all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Masters claims he supports women and families. But if I didn't have the right to abort the pregnancy, my three children can be left out on their own. Masters is so extreme and so wrong for Arizona.”
Democrats’ heavy focus on abortion rights isn’t new post-Kansas. They have been airing abortion-focused ads for months, particularly in gubernatorial races. Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams’ first ad of the general election hit Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp on abortion (she has a new ad out describing his abortion policies as “an attack on the women of Georgia” that debuted Wednesday). And Democrats have run five ads in total highlighting Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano’s hardline anti-abortion position—including a few that aired before he even won his primary in May.
But Democrats say the lopsided win in Republican-leaning Kansas shows how motivating the issue is—and how out-of-step Republicans are on abortion. Polls have consistently shown that more than 60 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
“Kansas was confirmation of what we expected and had seen in data. Some people are acting like it’s a new attack line. This is something we’ve been saying would be a top decision ever since Dobbs,” Democratic Governors’ Association spokesman David Turner told VICE News.
And Democrats and their allies have recently aired ads painting Republicans as “dangerous” and “extreme” on abortion rights in Senate races in Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—almost every single competitive Senate race on the map.
Republican strategists admit that the Supreme Court’s decision has galvanized Democratic base voters and helped turn what was looking like a wipeout election into a more closely fought one. But they said that they’d seen little evidence that abortion was a top issue for most swing voters.
“The persuadable voters in battleground states are far more focused on issues related to the economy, inflation, and crime and safety. Ultimately whichever candidate can best connect with those voters as it relates to those issues will be most successful come the fall,” Republican Governors Association spokesman Jesse Hunt told VICE News.
And it’s worth noting that Democrats aren’t focusing on abortion rights in every race. It was notable that Kansas Democrats’ initial attack ads to shore up Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly after Tuesday’s primary focused not on abortion but on tying newly minted GOP nominee Derek Schmidt to unpopular former GOP Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and hitting him on fiscal issues.
Strategists in both parties warn against projecting too much for November’s elections from Kansas. The straight yes-or-no ballot question isn’t the same as a multi-pronged campaign where multiple issues, candidate quality, and President Biden’s dismal approval rating will all play major factors.
But the lopsided 59%-41% margin was a surprise even to abortion rights supporters—and the huge turnout showed how much the issue can energize a Democratic base that until recently looked demoralized and disinterested heading into the midterms.
And it’s notable that while Democrats are deluging the airwaves with abortion ads, they’re going largely unanswered. Republican strategists couldn’t point to a single competitive statewide race where their candidates were spending money on ads highlighting their opposition to abortion rights.
And even hardline Republican nominees don’t seem eager to discuss the topic. Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake dodged a question on abortion and quickly moved on during a Wednesday press conference:
The issue seems to already have had an impact on the national political climate. On June 24, the day that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Republicans had a 2.3-point lead on the question of who voters wanted to control Congress in FiveThirtyEight’s average of national polls. Now, the two parties are tied.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also downgraded his expectations for a big GOP wave election this year since abortion has emerged as a top issue and the GOP has nominated a number of flawed candidates in key swing states.
After predicting a “very good election” last November, McConnell said on Fox News this week that the parties were in a dogfight for Senate control.
“I think it’s going to be very tight. We have a 50-50 nation. And I think when this Senate race smoke clears, we’re likely to have a very, very close Senate still, with us up slightly or the Democrats up slightly,” he said Wednesday.