Calm: Kansas abortion vote shows populism can work for Democrats, too

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. seemed to enjoy the yucks he was getting from friendly audiences overseas when I laughed recently foreign leaders by name, and Prince Harry too, for criticizing the Supreme Court opinion he wrote stripping Americans of their federal constitutional right to abortion.

However, most Americans didn’t find Alito’s schtick funny at all. And now the voters of Kansas—Kansas! The scarlet state – which hasn’t sent a Democrat to the US Senate since Franklin Roosevelt was first elected – has delivered its verdict on Alito’s job: no. By 18 percentage points, they vote this week to keep the right to abortion in their state constitution.

Take this, Sam.

The unelected Alito, however, has a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, and he said he doesn’t care about public reaction to his conservative rulings outside the mainstream. As I wrote in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, judges can’t worry about these “extraneous influences.”

Opinion columnist

Jackie Calms

Jackie Calmes takes a critical look at the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

do you know who is concerned? Republicans who are not incumbent for life in their jobs and who risk being elected or re-elected this fall. They and their managers have to care about what the public thinks. And the backlash from Kansas voters — the first electoral test on the issue since the court’s 5-4 ruling in June overturning half a century of abortion rights precedent — now suggests a potential breakwater. against the red wave Republicans were counting on in November to sweep giving them control of Congress and the highest state offices.

Polls showed a backlash against Dobbs galvanizing Democrats and left-leaning independents even before Kansans voted. Whether that anger can offset Americans’ concerns about inflation and President Biden’s unpopularity is a big question. Yet Democrats are suddenly more confident they can keep their Senate majority and Republicans more worried, according to my reporting.

Republicans are still heavily favored to capture the House majority, but no less than former Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele and George W. Bush political strategist Matthew Dowd scheduled on MSNBCpost-Kansas, that Democrats could retain power in both chambers.

But few other states are expected to have abortion rights on the ballot this fall, to similarly act as a magnet drawing pro-choice voters to the polls. The challenge for Democrats is to make Republican candidates personify the threat to reproductive freedom, whether in the states or in Congress, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) s joins the call for a nationwide ban. “Republicans are making this very easy to do,” says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, given the far-right extremism of the candidates they nominate.

The Democratic Senate Majority PAC, which Garin works for, is now broadcasting a video ad assailing Blake Masters, winner of this week’s Arizona Republican primary to run against the Democratic senator. Mark Kelly, for promoting a national law against abortion without exception for rape, incest or life as a pregnant woman. Kari Lake, Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, greeted the Supreme Court for opening “a new chapter in life…where we help women become the mothers they are meant to be”.

A closer look at voting in Kansas shows why Democrats have a new hope and a new fear of Republicans: turnout.

Hundreds of thousands more Kansans voted on the abortion measure than they did in the two-party primaries, combined. The more than 900,000 voters were about double the vote total in Kansas’ two previous midterm primary elections. Their numbers approached the highest turnout millions in recent general elections for president.

So much for the scheming of the Republican supermajority in the Kansas Legislature: It timed the vote on the abortion amendment for the primaries of parties that typically have low Democratic turnout and are unfamiliar with the 3 Kansas voters in 10 politically unaffiliated, who generally cannot vote in their. These independents could vote on the ballot measure, and they opposed it.

Not surprisingly, urban and suburban areas provided much of the opposition to the anti-abortion amendment. But I did 14 rural counties this massively in favor of the re-election of Donald Trump in 2020.

This outcome was a rationale for the strategy on the abortion rights side: snatching the banner of “freedom” from the Republican Party and arguing that, whatever your view of abortion, the government should not take the people’s medical decisions and imposing pregnancy. . Populism can work for both parties.

Kansas’ lopsided result was also a victory for direct democracy in these increasingly undemocratic times. Compare the people’s choice with the rush in red state legislatures — Indiana, for example — to ban or severely restrict abortion. These legislators are insulated from popular opinion by gerrymandered districts; their only fear is a challenge from the far-right party if they show restraint.

For this reason, by the 2024 election, Democrats will try to put more abortion rights measures before the public wherever states allow campaign initiatives on the ballot.

This prospect is an opportunity to call Alito’s bluff. In his view, he essentially dared abortion-rights supporters to use the ballot box to force their way into the states. “Women are not without electoral or political power,” he wrote (without explaining why he doesn’t think men have a dog in this fight).

For Democrats, keeping control of the Senate, fueled by the abortion rights backlash, would be particularly gratifying. It would rob Mitch McConnell of his hoped-for return as majority leader in January — a fitting reward for the senator who broke standards to create the Supreme Court supermajority that enabled Roe’s overthrow.

Alito took the big win in June with his Dobbs review. But voters can be sure he won’t have the last word.

@jackiekcalmes