Editor’s Note: Patrick T. Brown is a member of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank and advocacy group based in Washington, DC. He is also a former senior political advisor to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. Follow him Twitter. The views expressed in this piece are his. View more reviews on CNN.
In the face of political headwinds, the Democrats’ best hope of retaining control of Congress has been the correct but unpopular decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and return the ability to restrict abortion to states.
Reigning Democrats in tough Senate contests, such as Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, have tried to portray their Republican challengers as extremists on the issue of reproductive rights. Likewise, government elections in Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia and Pennsylvania have seen millions of dollars in ads portraying Republicans as seeking to ban abortion without exception.
So far, most Republican candidates have tried to evade the subject or change the subject. But in the last few weeks of the campaign, it is not too late for a more deliberate counterattack to win over moderate voters.
We know that abortion is a huge motivating force for voters who identify as Democrats. But for independents, the dynamics are more complex. A recent KFF Health Tracking survey found that a third of Democratic women want to hear candidates talk about abortion, but only 16% of independent women share this sentiment.
Indeed, FiveThirtyEight polls suggest that abortion has started to fade from the minds of some voters, as inflation remains stubbornly high, crime rates remain high, and fears of an economic downturn continue to rise. In the wake of the Dobbs ruling in June, 29% of women aged 18 to 44 cited abortion as one of their top three policy priorities. In a poll conducted in September, that number had dropped to 12%.
This suggests the possibility of renewed openness for Republicans to compete for middle voters who are conflicted over abortion but as the GOP’s economic agenda. There is no doubt that Republicans’ greatest political responsibility continues to be their lack of preparation for a post-Roe world. And if they are interested in influencing obtainable voters, they should demonstrate their seriousness in being genuinely pro-life, not just against abortion.
Republicans running for office have largely tried to downplay the issue. Blake Masters, the GOP candidate for the Senate in Arizona, awkwardly erased stridently pro-life language from his website, while Adam Laxalt, a Senate candidate in Nevada, posted announcements emphasizing his lack of interest in changing status. quo.
But proactively trying to neutralize progressive attacks on abortion could be far more effective than trying to hide the ball. When the subject comes up, Republicans should remind voters not only of Democrats’ extreme stance on abortion, but emphasize the importance of addressing the economic and cultural factors that drive women to consider it in the first place.
Imagine a voter who feels conflicted over the legality of abortion – personally opposed, perhaps, but knows someone in his life who has had an abortion due to economic pressures. Committing to supporting more funding for safety net programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Babies and Children (WIC) and programs that aim to reduce maternal mortality, could help them feel more comfortable by voting for a candidate who would support greater abortion restrictions.
Some elected Republicans have already moved in that direction. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, engaged in a closer than expected re-election campaign, responded to the Dobbs ruling by unveiling a package of safety net proposals that would increase the resources available to pregnant mothers and catalyze field programs that harm mothers. and their children the support they need.
Red states like Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina have joined a federal program that provides postpartum Medicaid coverage for one year after birth, up from the previous standard of 60 days; it should be a no-brainer for any state that places restrictions on abortion to follow suit. Texas and Indiana have also approved new expenditures aimed at supporting low-income mothers while approving abortion restrictions, demonstrating their commitment to being pro-life both during and after pregnancy.
There is obviously a strong moral argument to be made that Republicans should make life easier for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. But there is also a political case. An agenda that puts parents first would recognize the importance of a new emphasis on pre- and postpartum support in a post-Roe America. And many moderate voters are rejected by the extreme stance on both sides of the abortion debate. They could be won with reasonable rape and incest exemptions, along with meaningful support for new moms. Forays among those voters may be enough to tip the scales in a tight race.
This goes against the traditional GOP policy. Abortion “isn’t an issue you want to talk about,” longtime Republican strategist Doug Heye told CNN. But avoiding the question leaves the Democrats’ strongest attack in this cycle going unanswered and questions the GOP’s sincerity in being genuinely pro-life.
In the unstable political environment of our post-Roe midterms, Republicans have little to lose by sketching a proactive vision rather than merely defending. An explicit stance in favor of supporting women through increased safety net spending and improved maternal health would soften the edgy image the left would like to paint and could influence the key races that might decide the balance of power to Washington, DC and state capitals.