Democrats are seeking to keep abortion access front of mind for voters in upcoming elections after the party successfully used the issue to galvanize its base and peel off independent voters in the 2022 midterm elections.
Pro-choice advocates and Democrats saw success on the issue in races up and down the ballot following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, warning that elected Republican officials would work to implement a ban at the national and state levels.
And while the midterms may have come and gone, Democrats are insisting there is much campaigning to do with the issue on the campaign trail over the next two years.
“Women’s reproductive rights [are] essential to the American people — American women and men,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on a press call with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last week. “They rose and they said that in this election and we are here to protect that for them, and we will continue to do that, and I believe it will continue to be an issue until we can codify Roe into law for all Americans.”
While many strategists and pundits expressed skepticism that abortion would be a driving issue for voters in the midterms, the issue proved to play a key role in Democrats’ wins.
Twenty-seven percent of voters said abortion was the issue that mattered the most this year, topped only by inflation at 32 percent, according to exit polling from NBC News. Exit polling from CNN yielded nearly identical results, with 31 percent naming inflation as their top issue and 27 percent saying the same about abortion.
“If you look at this election in 2022, it’s very clear that abortion and the economy were top of mind for voters and Democrats were winning on the economy,” said Christina Polizzi, communications director at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “Abortion rights is an economic issue.”
There were signs that abortion did stand to be a strong issue in the lead-up to the general election, such as the rejection of a restrictive abortion ballot measure in Kansas and the victory of now-Rep. Pat Ryan (D) in a New York special election, where he made the issue a centerpiece of his campaign.
“Voters don’t take lightly to their half-century-year-old rights being ripped away and don’t think that these deeply personal decisions should be controlled by politicians,” said Colin Seeberger, senior adviser for communications at the Center for American Progress.
“That is the message that in every single state was a winning message,” he added.
According to a memo released by the House Majority PAC, out of the 211 television ads the Democratic group ran in 2022, 103 hit on economic issues, while 89 mentioned abortion.
Additionally, the group also wrote in a memo that it conducted an abortion ad test project in August, which found that its best-performing ad “was a contrast that frames the races as ‘a Democrat cares about the economy while the Republican wants to ban abortion’.”
“In 2022, Republicans refused to take abortion and reproductive freedom as a serious issue, all while pushing for a nationwide abortion ban,” House Majority PAC Communications Director C.J. Warnke said in a statement to The Hill. “Voters responded with a resounding no, rejecting Republican extremists and standing for personal freedom. House Majority PAC knew this was an effective, winning message and will continue to highlight Republican extremism on abortion until access is protected in all 50 states.”
While Democrats are hoping to keep the issue in the spotlight in 2024 federal races, the salience of abortion access as a campaign issue will again be tested in next month’s Georgia Senate runoffs and in next year’s General Assembly races in the purple commonwealth of Virginia.
Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker has voiced his support for a 15-week national abortion ban. He previously expressed support for a total ban on the procedure without exceptions but has since voiced support for measures restricting abortion that contain exceptions.
Still, Democrats are hoping to use the issue to hit Walker on the campaign trail.
“It is more a testament to Herschel Walker’s extremism that he supports a national ban on abortion without exceptions,” Seeberger said.
But Walker is still getting hefty support from anti-abortion groups, including Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which has pledged to spend at least $1 million to support Warnock in the runoff.
“Walker’s support for compassionate limits on abortion aligns with the people of Georgia and the overwhelming majority of Americans, in stark contrast to ‘activist pastor’ Warnock’s radical position of abortion on demand until birth, paid for by taxpayers,” the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said in a statement earlier this month. “Our ground team will continue to visit voters at their homes to expose Warnock’s extremism and urge them to elect Walker as their champion in the U.S. Senate.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Democrats are already planning for next year’s 2023 General Assembly elections, with a new political action committee aimed at funding abortion rights candidates. Roe Your Vote Virginia launched one day after Election Day. The group plans to spend $1 million on competitive state Senate and House of Delegates contests.
“Virginia is one of those rare places where we have elections every year, so it’s always a good bellwether to see what happens in ‘24,” said Gianni Snidle, a spokesperson for Virginia’s Democratic Party.
And despite Virginia’s next elections taking place in an off-year in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential primaries, Democrats say that Republican efforts to pass abortion restrictions in Virginia will provide enough motivation to get voters to the polls.
“Our work is already done for us because these Republicans keep introducing these bills,” Snidle said. “The only reason why it stops is because we have a one-seat majority in the Senate.”
Virginia Democrats are also working to keep the issue elevated in the state legislature. On Monday, Virginia’s congressional delegation penned a letter to the legislature’s Privileges and Elections Committee calling on state lawmakers to enshrine abortion rights into Virginia’s constitution.
“I received a letter from the Virginia US Congressional Democratic Delegation to advance legislation to codify reproductive freedom at the state level,” tweeted state Sen. Lionell Spruill (D). “I do intend to make sure this happens and is voted out of the [Privileges and Elections] Committee I chair.”
This dynamic is also set to play out in state legislative sessions across the country.
“I suspect that many of these states will be considering their own abortion-related legislation and I think that that will be ripe for drawing attention to Republicans’ extremism on pushing these radical bans,” Seeberger said. “Also at the same, that will be a springboard and catalyst for activists to remain engaged.”