Democrats spy a silver lining in the loss of federally guaranteed abortion rights, predicting that a Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could galvanize voter support for their party and prevent a looming midterm elections disaster.
Bracing for a fall rebuke over rising inflation and dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden, Democratic strategists say a Supreme Court ruling that shifts abortion rights to the discretion of the states would alter the 2022 debate and energize a dispirited liberal base.
Even some Republicans worry such a development would unify a divided Democratic Party and supercharge Democratic fundraising, limiting the GOP’s prospect for massive gains up and down the ballot.
“It gives us something to fight for. It gives some hope to an otherwise lifeless cycle for Democrats,” said T.J. Rooney, former chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. “Mercifully, it gives us something to go on the offensive with.”
DEMOCRATS HOPE TO MESSAGE THEIR WAY OUT OF A MIDTERM ELECTION LOSS
Ed Espinoza, a Democratic operative in Austin, Texas, added that his party could reap the political benefits well beyond this year’s midterm elections, should the Supreme Court’s conservative 6-3 majority gut Roe. The landmark 1973 decision created constitutional protections for abortions and has been treated as sacrosanct legal precedent, becoming a major topic of disagreement in political campaigns in most of the years since.
“The threat creates a heightened sense of urgency for voters on the Left and in the middle — and it’s immediately changed the conversation for 2022 and likely for 2024,” Espinoza said, referring to the next presidential contest. “Republicans have staked out a highly unpopular position that’s good for primary elections and bad for general elections.”
“Democratic intensity is about to get insanely high. It takes Biden off the hot seat,” agreed a Republican strategist in a key swing state who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “I can only hope the Democrats overreach and try to pack the court.”
The Supreme Court has yet to make a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case to adjudicate the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. But a leaked draft of a majority opinion upholding the law, and overturning both Roe and 1992’s Casey v. Planned Parenthood, was reported by Politico Monday evening and authenticated by the Supreme Court Tuesday morning.
That news excited passions on the Right and Left, with Republicans lauding a possible decision they have worked aggressively toward for decades and Democrats decrying the elimination of a federal right they have fought equally hard to protect. Meanwhile, among Democratic and Republican political professionals, there has been a scramble to figure out the impact of this development on the midterm elections — in House and Senate campaigns and in gubernatorial races.
They had little reliable information to use as a guide in the immediate hours after the draft decision leaked. For years, Democrats and Republicans have polled voters on hypotheticals. Now, with the prospect of Roe being overturned and abortion rights varying from state to state, party strategists are hungering for fresh data to inform current and future campaign messaging and tactics.
“The question is, does this drive moderate white women into the arms of the Democratic Party? We don’t know that yet. Anyone who tells you they know is guessing,” said Dane Strother, a veteran Democratic strategist.
Strother quickly posed a second rhetorical question he deemed equally crucial to determining which party is going to benefit, politically, from the elimination of federal abortion rights, if not more so: “How does this effect young female voters who have never had to consider whether they can get access to the healthcare they want? We know from polls that younger voters are moving away from Biden. Does this put them back in the fold?”
Over the years, abortion has generally been divided 50-50, with Democrats and Republicans occasionally battling to a stalemate, while in other instances, one party or the other has held the advantage.
In polling, support for or opposition to abortion is often a product of how the question is asked. If voters are presented with a scenario in which there are no prohibitions, such as no prohibition on late-term abortions, they are often opposed. Presented with a scenario in which an abortion ban has no exceptions, such as for rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother, they often oppose that as well.
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Even though red states anticipating the overthrow of Roe have begun to pass abortion bans that do not include exceptions for rape, incest, or severe fetal abnormalities, most Republican strategists do not believe this will let Biden off the hook or overtake inflation and other areas as top priorities in the midterm elections. However, they concede that it could be more problematic for the GOP in 2024.
“I don’t think it will affect the midterm significantly,” Republican strategist Brett O’Donnell said. “The economy is going to be the issue for the midterms. I think it could impact the presidential race for, particularly, for Republican 2024 candidates as our base will be interested in prohibiting abortions at both of state and federal level.”