Texas

Vulnerable House lawmakers see abortion as a winning campaign issue

OLATHE, Kan. — A rare Democrat in a heavily Republican state, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas is one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election this year. In the final months of her campaign for Congress, she focused on Republicans’ staunch opposition to abortion rights.

An online ad she ran last week highlighted how Amanda Adkins, the Republican favored to exit Tuesday’s primary for a rematch with David in November, has opposed abortion without exception. The ad points to Adkins’ support for an amendment to the Kansas constitution on Tuesday’s ballot that would make it clear that there is no state abortion right.

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“There were a lot of people who wouldn’t have known that I had an opponent who was extreme on this,” Davids, who defeated Adkins in 2020, said in an interview. “It’s not hypothetical anymore.”

It’s a sign of how the Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike down a woman’s federal constitutional right to an abortion has stirred the political dynamic heading into the fall elections, when control of Congress is at stake. A half-dozen of the House’s most vulnerable members — all of them women, all representing groups of suburban voters — see the issue as one that could help them win in an otherwise difficult political climate.

In addition to Davids, those incumbents include Reps. Angie Craig of Minnesota, Cindy Axne of Iowa, Elisa Slotkin of Michigan, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia, and Susan Wilds of Pennsylvania. They all face Republican opponents who support the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling. Some are battling opponents who support efforts to ban abortion in all circumstances, including when the mother’s life is at risk.

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It’s unclear whether a focus on abortion alone might be enough to mean re-election for many of these Democrats, who are running at a time of high inflation and disillusionment with President Joe Biden’s performance.

“In a close lottery election, which I think all of these are, it could matter,” said national pollster Christine Matthews, a self-described moderate who has worked for Republicans. “It’s not going to be what makes everyone make a vote choice, but it will make some people make a vote choice.”

Twenty-two percent of U.S. adults listed abortion or women’s rights in an open-ended question as one of the five issues they want the government to address in the next year, according to a survey by the Associated Press Center for Public Affairs Research and NORC in June. This has more than doubled since December.

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Since the Supreme Court’s decision, as state governments have taken action on abortion rights, the AP-NORC survey found that a majority of people in the United States say they want Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide country.

Overwhelming majorities also believe that states should allow abortion in certain cases, including if the pregnant woman’s health is at risk or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Like those polled overall, a majority of suburbanites think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to an AP-NORC survey. Suburban residents are also slightly more likely than city dwellers and significantly more likely than people living in rural areas to say abortion or women’s rights are among the top issues the government needs to address, according to an AP poll -NORC from June.

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This is especially important in areas like Axne’s in Iowa, which includes the teeming suburbs of Des Moines. Dallas County, west of Des Moines, has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the country since 2000, with the cornfields of decades ago now covered with new homes, schools and businesses.

In an interview, Aksne was adamant that she would make abortion a central theme of her campaign. Axne’s GOP opponent is state Rep. Zach Nunn, who indicated in a primary debate that he opposes abortion without exception.

“I can’t even believe I have to say this. I have an opponent who would let a woman die to give birth to a child,” Aksne said. “This is nonsense that we don’t see in this country. These are the things we talk about in other countries and women have no rights.

In Michigan, Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin is facing off against state Sen. Tom Barrett, who supports only an exception to save a woman’s life.

“It’s more extreme than the 1931 law that’s on our books,” Slotkin said in an interview. “So I think that’s an important contrast to make.”

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Adkins, Barrett and Nunn’s campaigns did not return phone calls, emails and text messages seeking comment for this story.

In Virginia, Yesli Vega, the Republican who is running against Spanberger in a district that includes suburban Washington, D.C., and Richmond, did not reject the debunked theory that pregnancy is unlikely in rape cases. In an audio recording released by Axios late last month, Vega was asked on the campaign trail in May if “it’s harder for a woman to get pregnant if she’s been raped.”

Vega responded, Axios reported, “Maybe because there’s so much going on in the body. I do not know. I haven’t seen any research. But if I’m processing what you’re saying, it wouldn’t surprise me because it’s not something that happens organically. You’re forcing it, aren’t you.”

The answer is reminiscent of what Todd Akin, a congressman from Missouri who was the Republican nominee for the Senate in 2012, said during that campaign. Discussing her opposition to exemptions for rape victims, Akin argued, “If it’s statutory rape, the female body has ways of trying to exclude everything.”

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The comments were seen as a major contributor to his loss to Democrat Claire McCaskill, a vulnerable incumbent.

In Virginia, Spanberger released a digital ad last week saying “Vega’s views do not represent Virginia.”

Spanberger previously said Vega’s comment was “extreme and ignorant” and “horrifying and disrespectful to the millions of American women who have or will become pregnant as a result of sexual assault.”

One of Spanberger’s campaign digital posts used this headline: “Republican Congressional Candidate Pulls Todd Akin on Abortion.”

Vega representatives did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Some Republicans warn that Democrats risk a backlash.

In Minnesota, for example, Craig faces Republican Tyler Kistner, whom she narrowly defeated in 2020 in a district that covers the southeast suburbs of Minneapolis.

Craig began running digital ads attacking Kistner, who opposes abortion but would allow exceptions in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.

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“Tyler Kistner wants to take away our rights,” says a female voice in an ad.

Kistner consultant Billy Grant said Craig is “trying to scare you” and noted that the Republican’s team is weighing a counterattack that portrays him as “pro-life but who understands both sides.”

“The rest of America is really not a one-issue voter, and they’re concerned about the economy,” Grant said.

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Vulnerable House lawmakers see abortion as a winning campaign issue

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