(CNN) — It’s not often that Democrats look to Kansas for a strong statement. But on Tuesday night, when Kansans voted overwhelmingly to keep abortion rights protected in their state constitution, that’s exactly what happened.
The size and scope of the result surprised even the most optimistic Democrats. Voters not only rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have opened the door to strict abortion laws in the Republican state, but they did so by turning out in large numbers, dwarfing turnout in the most recent primary election and signaling that the issue may motivate even Republican-leaning voters in a state former President Donald Trump won by 15 points in 2020.
The political impact of what happened in Kansas will be felt most directly in the November midterm elections, particularly in the governor and attorney general races after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, leaving the abortion issue to the states. The June ruling has led to a ban on compliance with the procedure in several states, while opening the door to more restrictions in others. At least four other states will vote on abortion-related ballot measures this November, but Democratic strategists are looking to the Kansas result to extrapolate lessons for states where abortion won’t be on the ballot.
“As the first state to vote on abortion rights following the fall of Roe vs. Wade, Kansas is a model for the path toward restoring reproductive rights across the country through direct democracy,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “We know that Kansas will not be our last fight or our last victory.”
Democrats and Republicans acknowledged Wednesday that the result in Kansas, while limited to one state, could change how each party approaches the midterm elections. Democrats, buoyed by the polls and the Kansas outcome, will likely try to make abortion a top issue in key races, hoping to tie their Republican opponents to support for stricter abortion laws.
Republicans, likewise, will remain cautious on the issue, largely ignoring their party’s desire to toughen abortion laws across the country and instead hoping to keep the focus on the economy.
“I think our Republican candidates will continue to focus on the issues that are most important to voters, and every poll continues to say that costs and the economy are going up,” said a Republican working on House races.
A Republican operative working on Senate races added: “The midterms are not going to happen in a vacuum, and there are other issues that voters are considering when they cast their ballots in the fall. It’s not going to be a positive vote or negative about a subject.
Democrats were more hopeful that the Kansas outcome would be a positive sign for the party’s mid-term outlook, amid President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and rising inflation and other economic concerns.
“We already knew that the majority of Americans support abortion rights, but last night’s results in Kansas showed us that it’s also a motivating factor for voters,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, Democrat CEO of progressive consultancy Bully Pulpit Interactive. . “We will likely see more Democratic candidates learn from Kansas and build on the threat and urgency of abortion bans across the country and begin to communicate that directly to voters.”
However, Tuesday’s nationwide results also highlighted a complicated relationship between voters and abortion. While Kansas voters resoundingly rejected the abortion amendment, Republican primary voters in places like Arizona, Michigan and Missouri also nominated candidates for governor, US senator and other top officials who support enacting tougher abortion restrictions. abortion.
Republicans seek balance on abortion issue
Since the Supreme Court decision in June, many Republicans have been trying to walk a fine line on abortion.
Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano is one of the clearest examples. While running in the Commonwealth Republican primary, Mastriano called abortion his “number one problem.” Since he won the nomination, he has been less emphatic, arguing instead that it is the “people of Pennsylvania” who will decide the future of abortion in the state.
In a statement after the June ruling, Mastriano, a state senator who has backed and promoted strong anti-abortion legislation, said Republicans “must not divert our attention from the key issues facing Pennsylvania families.”
And Mastriano is not alone, as Republicans across the country try to keep the focus on soaring inflation and voters’ sense of economic malaise rather than more controversial issues like abortion.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a memo following the leak in May of a draft opinion predicting the Supreme Court’s final decision, urging candidates to “be compassionate, consensus-building on abortion” and to be willing to ” listen” to people who disagree with them on the issue.
A Republican who works on Senate campaigns said that while the Kansas result “reflects that there is much more nuance to abortion policy than most people realize,” the NRSC has been advising candidates to ” decide how much they want to talk about it,” but they need to know that “voters want to talk about the issues that affect their day-to-day lives,” like the economy.
Some Republicans also believe that focusing on abortion would allow Republicans to go on the offensive against Democrats who oppose limits on the procedure.
“You need to push Democrats without limits,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist who was a top spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee in 2018, pointing to his party’s attempts to attack Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate candidate. John Fetterman, for saying “no” when asked if there were “limits on abortion that you would consider appropriate.”
Polls show decision to overturn Roe unpopular overall
Polls have consistently shown that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is unpopular in general and that the majority of Americans support the protection of the right to abortion. A CNN poll released in late July found that nearly two-thirds of Americans disapproved of the high court’s ruling, including 55% of self-identified liberal or moderate Republicans.
But Tuesday’s vote was the first real-world test of that support in an era without Roe’s protections, and the result points not only to the accuracy of recent polling but also to how voters — even in one state deep red like Kansas — are excited about the issue, giving Democrats a chance.
“This is further evidence of what poll after poll has told us: Americans support abortion rights. They believe we should be able to make our own health care decisions, and they will vote accordingly, even in the face of misleading campaigns.” said Christina Reynolds, a top official at EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.
After the Supreme Court’s draft opinion was leaked in May, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said a national abortion ban was “something worth discussing,” acknowledging that both state legislatures and Congress would probably address the issue.
Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a former House Republican Conference chairwoman, told a reporter last month that House Republicans would not propose a national abortion ban “before the election,” before adding, ” well, yes” when he asked if they would if they won the House of Representatives in 2022.
Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of the House Majority PAC, the main Democratic super PAC focused on House races, framed the issue as one of Americans losing a key right, echoing the message that worked for Democrats in 2018 around the theme of health care.
“The Republicans want to take this right away from Americans, and the Democrats want to guarantee this freedom and the freedom to control their own body,” he said. “This is taking away a fundamental right that has a huge impact on Americans across the country. And Americans don’t like it when their rights are taken away.”