Baltimore Sun

Kansas vote gives Dems new hope

Abortion rights win in red state boosts optimism for midterms

- By Steve Peoples

NEW YORK — Democrats displayed a newfound sense of optimism about the election-year political climate Wednesday after voters in traditiona­lly conservati­ve Kansas overwhelmi­ngly backed a measure protecting abortion rights.

At the White House, President Joe Biden hailed the vote in Kansas as the direct result of outrage at the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn a woman’s constituti­onal right to obtain an abortion.

Republican­s and the high court “don’t have a clue about the power of American women,” Biden said. “Last night in Kansas, they found out.”

Biden also signed an executive order aimed in part at making it easier for women seeking abortions to travel between states to obtain access to the procedure.

More specifical­ly, one of the directives Biden issued will allow states that have not outlawed abortion to apply for specific Medicaid waivers that would, in effect, help them treat women who have traveled from out of state.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., boasted of the political winds “blowing at Demo

crats.”

“Last night in the American heartland, the people of Kansas sent an unmistakab­le message to the Republican extremists,” he said. “If it’s gong to happen in Kansas, it’s going to happen in a whole lot of states.”

With three months until the November election, the optimism may be premature. But it represents a much-needed break for a party that has spent the better part of the past year reeling from crisis to crisis, including the botched withdrawal from Afghanista­n and rising prices for gasoline and other goods.

Those developmen­ts have contribute­d to Biden’s low approval ratings, leaving Democrats without a unifying leader in a position to rally voters before the election, with control of Congress at stake.

The Kansas vote, however, suggests that threats to abortion rights may energize Democrats in a way few political leaders can. And it comes at a moment when the party is gaining momentum on other fronts, including a legislativ­e package to reduce prescripti­on drug prices, combat climate change and raise taxes on corporatio­ns.

The challenge for Democrats will be to maintain the energy for several more months and defy trends that typically trip up the party in power.

In recent history, the party controllin­g the White House almost always suffers deep losses in the first midterm election of a new presidency. Also, an overwhelmi­ng majority of voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction amid inflation and other economic concerns.

Even with abortion-related momentum, many Democratic strategist­s privately expect to lose the House majority and believe the Senate is essentiall­y a coin flip.

The day after the Kansas vote, Democratic strategist­s on the front lines of key midterm contests described a complicate­d political reality on abortion.

Abortion rights supporters surged to the polls in Kansas, where abortion was quite literally on the ballot. By a roughly 20-percentage point margin, they rejected a measure that would have changed the state constituti­on to allow state lawmakers to impose restrictio­ns on abortion — or even a ban. The early August primary turnout was on par with a governor’s general election contest.

But few elections this fall will feature

such clear stakes for abortion rights. Just four states — California, Michigan, Vermont and Kentucky — are expected to feature a Kansas-style abortion referendum on the November ballot, according to the pro-Democratic group EMILY’s List.

In the majority of states, Democrats must convince voters they can protect abortion access only by defeating anti-abortion Republican candidates at the state and federal level. While that is true in most cases, it’s much more complicate­d to run against a candidate than a single-issue ballot measure, according to Democratic pollster Molly Murphy.

“The optimist would say, when voters know that abortion is on the ballot, they are motivated to turn out,” Murphy said. “That’s the messaging challenge that we are going to face. Will voters believe that a legal right to abortion is at stake here in this country in their vote for Congress, Senate, governor, state house — all of those things — and be as motivated to show up to vote?”

“Republican­s are going to do everything they can to deflect and not engage on this,” she added, noting the GOP’s heavy focus on inflation, gas prices and immigratio­n.

Indeed, as Democrats celebrated on Wednesday, the Republican reaction to the

abortion vote was decidedly muted.

The Kansas vote was “a huge disappoint­ment for pro-life Kansans and Americans nationwide,” said Mallory Carroll, of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.

Republican strategist Christine Matthews warned that the Kansas vote could have “an energizing effect for abortion rights supporters.”

“Success breeds success,” she said. “It will encourage the belief that turning out and activating can make a difference and that is particular­ly important with younger voters and those less inclined to participat­e. It’s a momentum-shifter.”

 ?? ANGIE RICONO/KCTV5 ?? People cheer Tuesday in Overland Park, Kansas, after a bid to allow strict limits or ban on abortion failed.
ANGIE RICONO/KCTV5 People cheer Tuesday in Overland Park, Kansas, after a bid to allow strict limits or ban on abortion failed.

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