USA TODAY International Edition

Fall of Roe could have far- reaching impacts

GOP candidates advised to soft- pedal implicatio­ns

- David Jackson and Phillip M. Bailey

WASHINGTON – Republican­s could be on the verge of a long- sought legal victory – striking down Roe v. Wade – but their political candidates are in no rush to talk about it on the campaign trail.

GOP campaign officials are advising candidates to downplay and soft- pedal the prospects of anti- abortion legislatio­n as they battle pro- choice Democrats for control of Congress and various statehouse­s across the country.

“Be the compassion­ate, consensus builder on abortion policy,” said an advisory document from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP’s campaign arm in the battle for control of the upper chamber currently split 50- 50 between the two parties.

Republican­s are feeling their way, in part because the uptick in activity came after a Supreme Court draft

opinion leaked last week indicating that the justices were likely overturn the landmark 1973 case; the actual ruling has not yet been issued.

The GOP will also have to deal with Democrats who are raising millions, energizing their base of voters, and planning to campaign by warning people about the loss of abortion rights, an issue that polls show most Americans support, and plainly has Republican­s wary six months before Election Day.

“With regard to the abortion issue, I think it’s pretty clear where Senate Republican­s stand,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview Thursday. “And if and when the court makes a final decision, I expect everybody will be more definitive. But I don’t think it’s much secret where Senate Republican­s stand on that issue.”

Earlier last week, the GOP leader said overturnin­g Roe was “not the story,” preferring to draw attention to the extraordin­ary leak of a Supreme Court ruling striking down abortion rights.

Behind the scenes, Republican campaign officials are advising candidates to keep their focus on the economy and on President Joe Biden. Those issues, they said, will help them win back control of the House and Senate.

When pressed on abortion – as they surely will be – candidates are being advised not to promote harsh state proposals that would ban most abortions, without exceptions for the health of the mother.

In its memo, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said GOP candidates should talk instead about how Democrats oppose nearly any restrictio­ns of abortions. They cited polls showing that most voters oppose lateterm abortions and public assistance to poor women needing abortions.

“The Democrat position is extreme and strident, our position should be based in compassion and reason,” said the memo from the NRSC.

The memo gives candidates sample language for statements and media ads. All are soft in tone and avoid the desire by many Republican­s to end all abortions, a position that draws fierce opposition.

Example: “I am pro- life, but in reality, forget about the political labels, all of us are in favor of life.”

Democrats who are making abortion bans a major campaign issue said Republican­s will not be able to escape their support for removing a fundamenta­l right for women. They cited polls showing voter opposition to shutting down access to abortions.

“No memo can change the fact that Republican­s are grossly out of step with the American public,” said Nora Keefe, deputy communicat­ions director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The emerging Republican strategy is coming in large part from McConnell, in many ways the architect of the Supreme Court’s 6- 3 conservati­ve majority that is considerin­g the fate of Roe v. Wade.

The longtime GOP leader infuriated Democrats in 2016, when he blocked then- President Barack Obama from filling a court vacancy created by the death of conservati­ve Antonin Scalia. The future of the Supreme Court animated much of the conservati­ve based who fueled Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.

During Trump’s single term in office, McConnell shepherded dozens of conservati­ve judges into the judiciary, including three Supreme Court nominees to Senate confirmation: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

In 2018, amid the heated confirmation battle for Kavanaugh, McConnell said putting conservati­ves on the court was “the single most important thing I’ve been involved in in my career.”

McConnell expressed optimism last month about the GOP’s chances at retaking Congress this year, when he told USA TODAY the “atmosphere could not be better” for Republican­s.

“I think clearly the ( Republican) campaigns are going to be running against the Biden administra­tion, and history tells us that there’s usually some buyer’s remorse,” he said in April.

But McConnell has refused to spike the ball on the possibilit­y of dismantlin­g Roe and instead focused on how the draft opinion came out, saying whoever leaked the draft should “be dealt with as severely as the law may allow.”

He evaded questions about whether Republican­s would seek a national abortion ban, which is what anti- abortion leaders seek, should they seize the Senate.

“All of this puts the cart before the horse,” he said.

Asked Thursday whether a national ban is something worthy of a debate now, or whether it should wait until after the election, McConnell acknowledg­ed the possibilit­y, even though he considers the discussion premature.

“If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislativ­e bodies – not only at the state level, but at the federal level – certainly could legislate in that area,” McConnell said. “And if this were the final decision, that was the point that it should be resolved one way or another in the legislativ­e process. So yeah, it’s possible. It would depend on where the votes were.”

McConnell said that even if the GOP reclaims the Senate, he would not entertain ditching the 60- threshold rule to pass a national abortion ban.

“No carve out of the filibuster – period,” he said. “For any subject.”

Trump, who backs a number of Republican­s up and down the ballot, also had a low- key reaction to the likely reversal of Roe vs. Wade. Trump told Fox News, “I don’t think it is going to have a tremendous effect.”

In the wake of the Roe revelation, conservati­ves close to McConnell are beaming at what the draft opinion could mean for the anti- abortion cause.

“What I’m hearing across the landscape, a lot of folks within the conservati­ve movement and pro- life advocates across the country are very excited with what might ultimately be a published decision from the Supreme Court,” said Republican Daniel Cameron, a McConnell protégé who serves as Kentucky’s attorney general.

Cameron said it’s right for Republican candidates to keep their focus on the economy and the “incompeten­ce” of the Biden administra­tion.

Addia Wuchner, an anti- abortion activist in McConnell’s home state, said the contents of the Alito opinion are a good sign for the 50- year struggle to overturn Roe. But she said there is a lingering concern among right- leaning grassroots advocates about the final decision, given how the draft was released.

“Our excitement was held at bay because of the disappoint­ment at this appalling breach of trust,” she said.

McConnell’s inner circle, for the moment, downplays the possibilit­y of an abortion rights surge at the ballot box this fall, hoping to avoid making abortion a banner issue for the midterm elections.

“The entire country is on fire over inflation, the economy, immigratio­n, schools, crime, etc.,” CNN political commentato­r Scott Jennings, a former McConnell adviser, said in a tweet May 3. “And Democrats new message is to reveal themselves as one issue party ( abortion). Not sure this is the midterm panacea they think it is.”

A survey suggests Democrats are more likely to get an adrenaline boost if the court’s conservati­ve majority strikes down Roe.

A Morning Consult/ Politico poll found liberals are more likely to be energized should Roe fall. It showed 42% of registered voters who lean Democratic say it would be more important to vote for a candidate who agrees with them on abortion, even if they disagree on other issues.

Roughly 31% of Republican voters say the same thing about the midterm elections

Democratic candidates are making McConnell and his influence on the Supreme Court major campaign issues.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe would never have been possible without leader McConnell and Senate Republican­s spending years packing our courts with hard right judges,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D- N. Y., said.

He planned a vote Wednesday that will showcase “where every single senators stands” on women’s reproducti­ve rights.

Abortion opponents who have advocated for the eliminatio­n of Roe v. Wade for decades said Republican candidates should celebrate the achievemen­t on the campaign trail.

They said that abortion is a more animating issue for conservati­ves than liberals and that the solid base of antiaborti­on voters helped elect the senators who put the Supreme Court in place.

Those voters are eager to elect Republican members of Congress and state legislatur­es who can pass antiaborti­on legislatio­n that would probably be held constituti­onal, while Democrats seek abortion laws with no restrictio­ns at all.

“Go on offense and expose the extremism of the Democratic Party platform,” said Mallory Carroll, vice president of communicat­ions with the Susan B. Anthony List, which plans to spend millions this fall in support of anti- abortion candidates.

Wuchner, who serves as executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said that if she were advising Republican candidates on how to address Roe being on the brink, she’d tell conservati­ves to stand firm.

“Our candidates are fiscal conservati­ves, they’re family value conservati­ve and they bring all of that to the table,” she said. “So to me it’s not something to navigate, you have your first principles and you run on those principles. Those conviction­s that you stand for – you’re unwavering in those conviction­s.”

Some conservati­ves said they worry that Republican­s are too sanguine about the fall political storm over abortion. They expressed concern that it may peel away some voters who would otherwise be attracted to the Republican messages on Biden, inflation, gas prices and crime.

GOP candidates must explain their support involves reasonable restrictio­ns on abortion, they said.

“Republican­s have to get out ahead of it,” said Heather Higgins, CEO of the organizati­on Independen­t Women’s Voice, which does not take a stance on abortion issues. She said the GOP must “get away from the hyperbole and the rage machine” of the Democrats.

Many Democrats expect that if Roe is overturned, more abortion rights supporters will come out to vote because the prospect of banning abortion is real.

The issue may not make that much of a difference in U. S. House races because so many districts lean heavily Republican or heavily Democratic.

The focus of many political profession­als is on the Senate, which is split 50- 50. Democrats control the chamber because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tiebreakin­g votes.

The fate of the Senate probably rests in six closely contested states: Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Pennsylvan­ia. Any of those races could turn on the abortion issue, and Democrats point out that abortion rights have strong support in all of them.

Democrats hope abortion can turn the tide in GOP- leaning states.

In Ohio, for example, Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan began attacking Republican opponent J. D. Vance over abortion hours after the state primaries.

“J. D. Vance and these other folks are telling a mom or a young woman that if she gets raped ... the government is going to make you bring that pregnancy to term. That’s insane in a free society.” he said,

Vance responded Thursday by attacking the Democrats’ support for no abortion restrictio­ns. Describing Ryan as a “Kamala Harris stooge,” Vance tweeted that support for late- term abortions is “a barbaric position anywhere in the world ( even European nations typically don’t allow abortion after 12 weeks). But it’s an especially radical position in Ohio.”

Analyzing the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade is an evolving process that is hard to calculate at the moment, political experts said.

For one thing, the high court has not issued its definitive ruling.

“Republican­s are in good position to have a strong midterm,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Abortion remains one of the few wild cards that could hypothetic­ally change that.”

 ?? JOSEPH PREZIOSO/ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Abortion rights supporters rally Sunday in Boston. Groups that back abortion rights have called for nationwide protests after a leaked draft opinion hinted the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade.
JOSEPH PREZIOSO/ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Abortion rights supporters rally Sunday in Boston. Groups that back abortion rights have called for nationwide protests after a leaked draft opinion hinted the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade.
 ?? J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ AP ?? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., told USA TODAY last week that a nationwide abortion ban was “possible.”
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ AP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., told USA TODAY last week that a nationwide abortion ban was “possible.”
 ?? JASPER COLT/ USA TODAY ?? Anti- abortion activists rally during the annual March for Life event in January. A Supreme Court draft opinion suggests Roe v. Wade may soon be overturned.
JASPER COLT/ USA TODAY Anti- abortion activists rally during the annual March for Life event in January. A Supreme Court draft opinion suggests Roe v. Wade may soon be overturned.

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