Here We Go Again [Updated]

In the 2022 off-year election, nearly everyone expected Republicans to make big gains in Washington. But they didn’t: Democrats held the Senate and Republicans eked out a bare House majority. Meanwhile, gains in state elections were muted. In Minnesota, where I live, GOP hopes were dashed as the Democrats held the House, took the Senate, and won all the constitutional offices from the governor on down.

Why these disappointments? The defining issue in 2022, on account of the Dobbs decision, was abortion. Even in states where there was no serious chance that the election would lead to any restrictions on abortion–like Minnesota–Democrats campaigned on nothing else. And it worked. Swing voters, including millions of suburban housewives, turned out to insure that the precious right to abort babies would not be undermined.

Conservatives have hoped that this year, voters would move on to more urgent issues. But the Democrats have other plans. This account is from the London Times:

President Biden and Vice-President Harris will put the spotlight on abortion rights in a national tour that seeks to rally Democrats and marks a renewed push to make it a defining issue of the 2024 election.

On Monday, Kamala Harris will travel to Wisconsin to kick off a national campaign focused on preserving access to reproductive healthcare and highlighting Republicans’ support of abortion restrictions.

Then on Tuesday, she will join Joe Biden at a rally in Virginia, where Democrats recently took control of the state legislature and have proposed creating a constitutional amendment that would codify abortion access in the state.

It signals a renewed effort to put abortion rights at the forefront of Biden’s re-election campaign, throwing more weight behind an issue that has galvanised voters in the 18 months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade.

The track record on the abortion issue is not encouraging:

Since that decision and the resulting abortion bans in 14 states, the voting public appears to have cooled towards restrictions. Whenever access to abortion has been on the ballot, the vote has gone in favour of protecting a woman’s right to choose, and more ballots ensuring the right to abortion at the state level are planned.

Can the Democrats and Joe Biden ride abortion to victory in 2024? Very possibly. In 2022, conservatives thought that issues like crime and the economy, on which Republicans hold big leads with voters, would translate into victory. But it didn’t happen. Pro-abortion rights voters, now a clear majority of the public, tend to prioritize that issue over everything else.

In some states, of course, the Democrats’ focus on abortion won’t work. But in most, the topic is dangerous for Republicans–even Republicans who try not to make it an issue in their campaigns.

Do Republicans have an issue that can neutralize the emotional appeal of abortion? The economy, of course, is a terrible issue for the Democrats, which is why they are intent on changing the subject. But the economy failed to outweigh abortion rights in 2022. This year, the issue that could negate abortion with swing voters is, I think, the border.

Rasmussen finds that 58% of likely voters agree that the Southern border is “a humanitarian and national security catastrophe.” Strong words. Voters correctly blame Biden, with 52% rating his performance on the issue as “poor.” And by a wide margin, voters trust the GOP more than the Democrats on the issue of illegal immigration, which consistently shows up near the top when pollsters ask voters what issue facing our country is most important.

Bidenflation and the president’s sad decrepitude are factors that are, so to speak, in the bank for Republicans. But to turn Biden’s pitiful job performance into victory, Republicans need an issue with enough motivational power to balance abortion rights, probably the single most popular position a politician can take in most states. Illegal immigration has the potential to be that issue, but the press will do all it can to divert attention from it. Republicans will need to pound away relentlessly, and with a single voice, on illegal immigration and the border catastrophe to give the issue the prominence it deserves.

UPDATE: One of my daughters reports that she has seen the first Joe Biden commercial of 2024. It is on…abortion.

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