Palin defeat in Alaska and Kansas abortion vote show 2022 midterms will be Roe election

Turns out Joe Biden was right when he said ‘Roe is on the ballot’, writes Eric Garcia

Thursday 01 September 2022 02:27 BST
US House candidate Mary Peltola reacts at her campaign party at 49th State Brewing in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. August 16, 2022
US House candidate Mary Peltola reacts at her campaign party at 49th State Brewing in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. August 16, 2022 (REUTERS/Kerry Tasker)

Democratic candidate Mary Peltola’s victory against former governor Sarah Palin in the special election to fill Alaska’s sole congressional seat would be a political earthquake on its own given the fact a Democrat has not won that seat since 1972.

But the fact that this was Democrats’ second special election victory in as many weeks shows a massive momentum shift after many political prognosticators had thought Republicans would blow them out as they seek to take back the majority.

Last week, Democrats held a seat in New York’s 19th district after Governor Kathy Hochul selected Antonio Delgado to be her lieutenant governor. In response, Pat Ryan won a special election largely campaigning on defending abortion rights against a more moderate and well-known Republican in Marc Molinaro.

These two victories come off the back of Kansas voting against a constitutional amendment that would have allowed for restrictions on abortion. But even in races that Democrats have lost – such as the special election in Nebraska’s 1st district and in Minnesota’s 1st district – they overperformed and made inroads in rural parts of the country.

Saying that all of these races are driven by the same dynamics would be absurd – Kansas is different from New York which is different from Alaska – and many of the candidates ran on wholly unique messages. But it is hard to deny that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v Jackson ruling overturning Roe v Wade earlier this summer didn’t have some kind of effect.

When the Supreme Court handed down its decision, President Joe Biden said Roe is on the ballot.” At the time, it was hard to see given that his approval ratings continued to hit historic lows, inflation remained high and when Politico leaked a draft of the Supreme Court’s opinion in May, the Senate failed to pass legislation to codify Roe.

But it’s fairly clear that public opinion has also shifted. A new Quinnipiac University poll released today showed that 34 per cent of respondents think abortion should be legal in all cases, the highest that it has ever been since Quinnipiac started asking the question in 2004.

This isn’t to say voters don’t care about other issues. The same survey showed that 27 per cent of voters think inflation is the most urgent issue facing the country today, with abortion, climate change and gun violence all tied for second at 9 per cent each.

But that is a decided change from even a few months ago. In addition, Democrats’ recent polling shows them enjoy a slight lead in the generic congressional ballot – which determines whether voters would prefer to vote for a generic Republican or a generic Democrat for Congress.

Furthermore, it’s fairly clear that even staunch conservatives have to modulate their stance on abortion. Arizona Senate Republican candidate Blake Masters has scrubbed his campaign website when it comes to abortion rhetoric, removing language about a “federal personhood law,” which earned the chagrin of anti-abortion conservatives, only for his campaign adviser to clarify that he hasn’t moderated.

Democrats still face major structural advantages given that the president’s party typically loses seats in a midterm, but the outlook is quite different and now Democrats are able to campaign on something to run against, as well as their own record.

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