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Abortion upends battle for a dozen key governorates

Spending on abortion-related ads shows how profoundly abortion has transformed these races, giving Democrats an opening to take offense in an otherwise difficult year for them to be on the ballot.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade In June, Democratic gubernatorial candidates and outside groups spent nearly $34 million on TV ads mentioning abortion, according to data compiled by ad-tracking firm AdImpact. Republican gubernatorial candidates, on the other hand, collectively spent about $1.1 million on TV ads mentioning abortion. Instead, they focus on issues such as the economy or crime, arguing that Democrats are ignoring the issues they believe voters are most concerned about.

Thirty-six states are holding gubernatorial contests this year, and about a dozen of them are expected to be competitive. The issue is front and center for voters in states like Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin, wheredeer laws banning abortion in almost all cases are being challenged in court — and where the governor will play a key role in shaping policy when legislatures reconvene in 2023.

On Friday, an Arizona court ruled a 19th-century abortion ban could go into effect, prompting cries of outrage from Democrats there — and mostly silence from Republicans.

“I mourn today’s decision,” Katie Hobbs, the Democratic candidate for the state’s open seat, said in a statement. “We must now turn our anger into motivation to win in November and restore our fundamental rights.”

Republicans control more governors’ mansions across the country Nov. 28-22 for Democrats. But more Americans live in a state with a Democratic governor than a Republican, a balance that forecasters predict will remain unchanged after the election.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, president of the Democratic Governors Association, told an election forum earlier this month that abortion is the rare issue that drives bipartisan grassroots and moderate voters. at the same time.

“Often, political professionals separate issues as ‘Here’s an issue that’s going to transform your base,’ and ‘Here’s an issue that’s going to persuade moderate voters,'” Cooper said. “Well, the right to abortion covers both.”

But Republicans argue that Democrats’ focus on the track issue is misguided.

“Moderate and independent voters needed to build winning coalitions in competitive gubernatorial races worry about the economy, crime and education,” said Republican Governors Association spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez. . “Democrats who continue to steer the conversation towards their own hardline stance on on-demand abortions until birth may excite their base, but that only strengthens the voters they would need to actually win more than the Democrats they not only don’t care about their biggest concerns, they also don’t intend to address them.

The power of governors to set abortion policy has been on full display in the three months since the Dobbs decision. Two states passed new abortion bans this summer — Indiana and West Virginia — with more chances to pass abortion bills when their legislatures reconvene next year.

But Republican governors who welcomed the court’s decision have remained largely silent ever since, even in red states where they don’t have to worry about electoral consequences. When Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed his state’s new abortion ban earlier this month, his office didn’t even issue a press release — and his response on Twitter was under -estimated.

“I said from the start that if [West Virginia] lawmakers brought me a bill that protected life and included reasonable and logical exceptions, I would sign it, and that’s what I did today,” the governor wrote.

How the Republican gubernatorial candidates are talking about abortion is, however, illustrative: a handful of formerly self-styled “pro-lifers” with little leeway have tried to fend off Democratic attacks on abortion in paid advertising by emphasizing their opposition to late-term abortions and trying to cast the issue as an established law in their state or something voters should weigh in on directly at the ballot box.

Among them, Mark Ronchetti, a former television weather presenter, is challenging Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, where abortion is legal throughout pregnancy. Ronchetti – who described himself as “strongly pro-life” during his 2020 Senate campaign – has now aired a series of TV ads aimed at neutralizing the issue. Earlier this month, he released his second abortion ad, which features him with his wife.

In the ad, Ronchetti states that her stance is “to end late-term abortion,” while trying to divorce her candidacy from the issue. “Honestly, no politician should decide that. You should,” he says in the ad, calling for the question to appear on a statewide ballot — a notable departure from the stance taken by several Republican state legislatures.

Other Republican gubernatorial candidates have also tried to back out of the abortion debate. Former State Senator Scott Jensen, the Republican candidate from Minnesota who declared earlier this year before the Dobbs decision that he would “try to outlaw abortion” as governor, also ran an ad recently trying to contrast Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.

In the ad, Jensen, while cradling a tiny baby, accuses Walz of “weaponizing” the issue, saying “it’s a protected constitutional right and no governor can change that, and I’m not running for do it”. In Minnesota, the State Supreme Court has recognized the right to abortion under the State Constitution.

In Nevada, Republican gubernatorial candidate and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said that while he personally opposes abortion, he would respect the 1990 referendum on abortion rights. A pro-Lombardo outside group runs an ad saying “politicians are trying to scare you about abortion,” noting that the state’s abortion law can only be changed by another ballot. And last week, Lombardo said he would fight a national abortion ban if Congress passed one.

At the same time, Lombardo’s campaign sponsored an event for Nevada Right to Life, a group that opposes abortion at all stages of pregnancy, and paid two crisis pregnancy centers for related costs. at the event.

It’s been difficult for Lombardo to get into the close fight against Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in a Western state that often resents government interference with individual liberties — and especially alongside Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt who has been outspoken on the issue of abortion. For example, in a conversation with religious leaders, Laxalt called the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision “a joke”, according to the audio obtained by The Nevada Independent. (Laxalt also recently released an announcement noting that abortion rights are protected in the state, also trying to fend off attacks on the issue.)

“Anyone with half a brain before this year would have said, ‘Nevada voters have spoken.’ It’s one of the age-old dodges. But it’s not enough now because there are those who expect you to say, ‘Yeah, I’m all for a ban,'” a said a Nevada Republican strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the governor’s race. “Lombardo and some of the others are probably suffering from a bout of nausea trying to figure out what to do here.”

“Is Joe Lombardo going to get on TV and say, ‘I support abortion’ or ‘I support a woman’s right to choose?’ Probably not. He will have to resist attacks, ”added the strategist.

However, not all Democrats have made abortion a centerpiece of their race. In Kansas, Democratic Governor Laura Kelly hailed a decisive victory for abortion rights supporters at the polls in August, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed the legislature to ban abortion, but ran his campaign against Republican Derek Schmidt. on the state budget, school funding and jobs.

“The Aug. 2 vote shows that Kansans want their government to focus on things like the economy and schools – without intervening in private medical decisions,” Kelly campaign spokeswoman Lauren Fitzgerald said. “Now that voters have spoken clearly, Governor Kelly will remain focused on bringing the two sides together to get results – a balanced budget, lower taxes, fully funding schools, and attracting new businesses to the State.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates elsewhere who have not tried to triangulate their position with TV abortion ads have sometimes sought to downplay it. The day the Dobbs decision was made, says Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate and a vocal proponent of a no-exception abortion ban, ignored the problem as a distraction. But he told a reporter last week that abortion is “the most important issue, I think, in our lives”, making the race the a difficult choice.

Michigan Republican Tudor Dixon, who is running to unseat Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, has always defended her belief that there should be a comprehensive ban on abortion, even as Whitmer and her allies have continued to hammer her. Abortion is legal in Michigan at the moment because the courts have blocked enforcement of the state’s 1931 abortion ban. But that could change depending on a final ruling by the state Supreme Court and the outcome of a measure to protect abortion rights that will appear on the ballot in November.

Republicans in the state hoped the ballot initiative could serve as a kind of release valve for the issue, allowing voters to separate their votes on abortion from their votes for governor.

“And just like that, you can vote for Gretchen Whitmer’s abortion program and still vote against her,” Dixon tweeted on the day the abortion vote was measured was entered on the ballot. “Gretchen, it’s time to stop hiding behind your BS ads.”

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