In Michigan, Democrats targeted the Republican gubernatorial candidate almost immediately after the primary with a television ad highlighting her opposition to abortion. no exceptions for rape or incest.
In Georgia, Democrats recently attacked the Republican governor in another TV ad, with women speaking fearfully about the specter of being investigated and “criminalized.”
And in Arizona, Republican candidates for both Senate and governor faced off almost immediately after the primary with different ads. calling they “dangerous” because of their anti-abortion positions.
Across America, Democrats are using abortion as a powerful cudgel in their 2022 TV campaigns, paying for a slew of ads in House, Senate and gubernatorial races that show how quickly Abortion policy has changed since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. June
With national abortion rights protections suddenly gone and bans taking effect in many states, senior White House officials and key Democratic strategists believe the issue has radically reshaped the 2022 landscape in their favor. They say it has not only roused the party’s progressive base, but also provided a wedge issue that could sweep independent voters and even some Republican women who believe abortion opponents have gone too far.
In the fallout from the ruling, Democrats see the potential to reverse the typical dynamic of midterm elections in which voters punish the party in power. In this case, even though Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress, it is one of their top policy priorities, access to abortion, that has most visibly been stripped away.
“Rarely has such a clear issue been handed to Democrats on a silver platter,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster working with multiple 2022 campaigns. “It took an election that was going to be mostly about inflation and immigration and also abortion.”
In the roughly 50 days since the Supreme Court’s ruling, Democrats have flooded the airwaves in many of the nation’s most closely watched contests, spending nearly eight times more than Republicans on abortion ads: $31.9 million of dollars compared to $4.2 million, according to data from AdImpact, a media tracking firm. And in the closest Senate and gubernatorial contests, Republicans have spent virtually nothing to counter the Democratic offensive.
By contrast, in the last semesters of four years ago, Democrats spent less than $1 million on ads mentioning abortion-related issues over the same time period.
The 2022 advertising figures do not include money spent on the recent anti-abortion referendum in Kansas. The landslide defeat of the measure, especially in a traditionally conservative state, has only emboldened Democratic strategists and candidates.
There are risks in focusing so much on abortion at a time when Americans are also expressing intense anxiety about the economy. But Democrats are making inroads, especially in key Senate races.
They have spent more than $2 million on ads targeting Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, for his stance on abortion; $1.6 million in ads against Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate candidate in Pennsylvania; and $1.8 million to Adam Laxalt, the Republican Senate candidate from Nevada who He recently wrote an opinion piece defending his position on the issue.
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More abortion ads have aired in Senate races in North Carolina, New Hampshire, Arizona and Washington, and even in Connecticut and Maryland, two states with safe Democratic incumbents.
“I clearly think abortion is going to matter because I think it affects the demographics and it really gets into a lot of voters, including Trump voters and independents, and their concept of personal freedom,” said Senate Majority Leader JB Poersch. PAC a Democratic super political action committee that has already funded abortion ads in several states.
But Republicans say Democrats risk ignoring economic concerns that polls have shown are paramount.
“They’ve got a lot of bad news and they think it’s the only good news they’ve got,” said former Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, who led the House Republican campaign arm during the 2018 midterm elections. If they want to be a one-issue party, that’s up to them.”
If Democrats focus overwhelmingly on the abortion issue at the expense of other issues, suggested Mr. Stivers, “they will smoke in the economy, where they are already losing ground”.
For months, Democrats have been bracing for a Republican surge this fall, fueled by President Biden’s declining popularity, high gas prices and inflation, and still face a difficult political environment. But Mr. Biden is expected to sign a broad legislative package soon to address climate change and prescription drug prices. Also, gas prices are falling, and there are at least some tentative signs that inflation may be easing.
These developments, combined with the reaction to the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, have boosted Democrats’ hopes of retaining power after November. Certainly, they plan to tout their legislative successes while making other attacks on Republicans, who they see as a threat to democracy.
Some abortion ads use specific words and positions of Republican candidates against them. Some are narrated by women who speak in deeply raw and personal terms. Some use Republicans’ hardline positions on abortion to cast them more broadly as extremists.
And some, like one of the first ads to come to Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, all three do. “Doug Mastriano scares me,” declares a woman at the beginning of the spot.
A particularly poignant point came from Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who used a montage of women address Gov. Brian Kemp’s stance on abortion.
“Support a total ban,” says a woman in the ad. “Even if they rape me,” says another. More women continue, one after the other: “Victim of incest. Forced pregnancy Criminalized women. Women in prison”.
Democrats seek to connect messages about abortion with the broader argument that hard-line Republicans seek to eliminate fundamental freedoms.
“The arguments that Democrats are using in these ads don’t hold up in the abortion space,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a former White House communications director under President Barack Obama and a longtime party strategist. “You’re telling them something about their temperament, their judgment and their values.”
In at least five states, Democrats have used the phrase “too extreme” to call out Republicans, using abortion as an example.
Abortion is often the opening pitch for Democrats at the start of general election campaigns. Just this month, the ads have targeted Tudor Dixon in the Michigan gubernatorial race and Kari Lake in the Arizona gubernatorial race. And a day after Minnesota’s gubernatorial primary, Democrats began airing an ad calling Scott Jensen, the Republican candidate, “too extreme” on abortion.
The next major test of abortion’s political power comes in a special election on August 23 in New York.
County Executive Pat Ryan in Ulster County, New York, the Democratic nominee in this race, has made abortion a focus of his campaign, even in a state where access remains protected . In a new announcement this week, Mr. Ryan appeared a carousel of national republicans arguing that the party would pursue a nationwide ban.
A Democratic super PAC is spending $500,000 to promote Mr. Ryan, a veteran, with an abort message. “Surely he didn’t fight for our freedom abroad to see it taken away from the women here at home,” says the narrator.
The election is being watched closely as a barometer of the power of the issue. Democrats have outperformed — even in defeat — in two other special elections since Roe v. Wade was overturned, in Minnesota and Nebraska.
Meredith Kelly, a Democratic strategist and campaigner, said one factor that made abortion “extremely powerful” was the idea that “Republicans are getting away with something.”
Research has shown that the notion of disenfranchisement can be a motivator for voters, something Ms. Kelly saw firsthand in 2018 when she guided the message for the House Democratic campaign arm. The party took over the House in part by bashing Republicans for their repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“When you take something away from voters, especially something as dear and crucial as health care, which is what this is, it’s a really dangerous decision politically,” she said of Republicans’ approach to abortion rights. .
Some Republicans are trying to back off or soften their stances.
In Arizona, ads are slamming Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters for calling abortion “demonic,” talking about punishing doctors who perform the procedure, and opposing rape and incest exemptions during the primary . In a post-primary interview with Arizona RepublicMr. Masters called the state’s 15-week ban “a reasonable solution” and expressed his desire to “reflect the will of Arizonans.”
On the airwaves, however, few Republicans have had an answer. A notable exception has come in the race of the governor of New Mexico; Mark Ronchetti, the Republican candidate to take on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, has been under fire about his position on abortion.
“I personally am pro-life, but I think we can all come together on a policy that reflects our shared values,” said Mr. Ronchetti a a campaign site which detailed his position on the subject.
Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, opened his first general election announcement by bashing Mr. Mastriano on abortion.
In an interview, Shapiro said voters were especially attuned to the issue because the Republican-led state Legislature had passed strict abortion limits that he would veto and that Mr. Mastriano would sign.
“There’s an intensity around it,” he said. “They know that the next governor of Pennsylvania will decide that.”
The evening before, Shapiro said, he met a Republican woman in the Lehigh Valley who told him she was voting for him, her first Democratic vote, because of abortion.
“It’s brought people into our campaign and it’s put people on the sidelines to engage like any other issue,” Shapiro said of abortion’s influence after the Supreme Court’s ruling. “We just saw an explosion.”