A year after the Supreme Court struck down the nation’s right to terminate a pregnancy, Democrats are brimming with confidence that the issue will help them win the House in 2024. But the composition of the battlefield could complicate that strategy.
Democrats blanketed the airwaves with abortion ads in the final weeks of last year’s midterm elections, stemming the tide of an expected red wave. But a red wave emerged in New York and California, two traditionally Democratic states. Campaign strategists from both parties believe voters were not as focused on abortion, since abortion rights had strong protections at the state level. And that’s where the battle for the House will largely be fought next year.
The Democrats’ top targets, as they seek a net gain of five seats to turn the House around, include 18 Republicans representing districts President Joe Biden won in 2020. Eleven of those Republicans hail from New York and California. . Still, Democrats believe that focusing on abortion helped turn the 2022 election around and is a winning strategy for 2024.
“This nationwide extremism over reproductive liberties will cost the Republicans a majority in the House,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Suzan DelBene told NBC News in an interview.
I think right after the [Supreme Court] decision, some people, especially in the Democratic states, felt their rights were going to be protected,” said DelBene, D-Wash. «And now they’ve seen, time and time again, Republicans move toward a nationwide abortion ban.»
It’s too early in the 2024 election cycle for heavy TV advertising, but on Thursday, the DCCC sent out an early message of intent with digital ads in all 31 of his target seats, featuring an image of Speaker Kevin McCarthy with text saying the target Republican lawmaker and «extremist House Republicans want to restrict your reproductive liberties,» pointing to early votes on two bills against abortion.
Most of the 18 Republicans in Biden’s districts also faced Democratic attacks on abortion last year and still prevailed. But Democrats believe this election cycle will be different.
DelBene and other Democratic strategists said voters will continue to hear more stories of women suffering because they can’t access abortion care as Republican-led states move to restrict abortion access. And Republican presidential candidates have voiced their support for federal abortion bans as they compete in their primaries.
“This is a problem that is now real and visceral. It’s not a theory anymore,” said Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan, who won a special election in New York after last year’s Supreme Court decision.
Ryan also noted that abortion will be on the ballot in New York next year as voters weigh a proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. (Abortion is currently legal under regular state law in New York.) And Ryan noted that New Yorkers would be hurt by proposals by the Republican Party to institute a federal ban or limit access to pills used in medical abortions.
It seems that voters are paying attention to abortion policies in other states.
In a new national NBC News poll, 57% of voters in the West and 55% in the Northeast, where abortion is largely legal, say their own states have «struck the right balance» on access to abortion. But similar proportions of those voters — 58% in the Northeast and 59% in the West — say abortion access nationwide is «too difficult.»
As Democrats prepare to go on the offensive, Republicans are grappling with how to address the abortion issue after largely ignoring it in the midterms. There was a stark difference in the parties’ closing arguments in the 2022 midterms: Just 1% of Republican ads in House races mentioned abortion last October, while 41% of Democratic ads mentioned the subject, according to an analysis of ad tracking firm AdImpact.
“The worst thing Republicans can do on this issue is ignore it and act like it could go away. It’s not going away,» said a Republican strategist who was granted anonymity to discuss the strategy.
“We have to come to terms with that,” added the strategist. “We have to have well thought out and rationalized positions. And we have to feel comfortable talking about it now.»
Republicans are already forecasting that they plan to paint Democrats as extremes on the other end of the abortion issue, arguing that Democrats do not support any limits on abortion.
“Republicans support empathetic and human policies that value life. The ‘safe, legal and weird’ Democratic Party is dead,” Republican National Congressional Committee spokeswoman Savannah Viar said in a statement to NBC News. “It has been overrun by abortion-on-demand extremists who oppose limiting abortion after babies are in pain, ending late-term abortion, or even providing medical care to babies born alive after botched abortion.”
Asked how he would advise candidates facing GOP attacks that paint the Democratic position on abortion to the extreme, DelBene said Democrats «stand up for the rights that people have had, the protections that were there under Roe.» .
He was referring to the Supreme Court precedent that protected the right to abortion until a fetus is considered viable, which is estimated to be around 24 weeks gestation.
Ryan’s advice was similar, if more forceful.
“Say it,” Ryan said, using a swear word. “We are not for that. We are here to protect reproductive rights. They are here to take them away. That’s all. It’s very clear».