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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Abortion Politics in PA ‘Burbs May Save Dems Senate Majority

Nobody knows for certain whether or not the January 6th hearings will have an effect on the midterm elections. But Democrats have good reason to hope that the pending annihilation of women’s reproductive rights by the U.S. Supreme Court may have an effect on the midterms. As Ryan Cooper writes in his article, “In Pennsylvania, Democrats’ Suburban Strategy Is Being Put to the Test: The party needs to turn out the suburbs and shore up its urban base. Republican anti-abortion extremism might help” at The American Prospect:

The fate of the Democratic Party’s national fortunes this year may well be decided in Pennsylvania. The state has been a bellwether for the last two presidential elections, which were decided by tiny margins—0.7 percentage points (for Trump) and 1.2 (for Biden), respectively. The governor’s race, state legislature, and a critical open Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Pat Toomey are all up for grabs.

In the pre-Trump days, these midterm races would have been a lock for Republicans. The party that wins the presidency has almost always lost power at all levels of government in the succeeding midterm—and the exceptions come during highly unusual circumstances, like the Great Depression or immediately after 9/11.

On the surface, the signs have not looked good for Democrats. Pennsylvania’s Republicans have recently had a big advantage in new party registrations, and they are energized around Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Rank-and-file Democrats are demoralized about Joe Manchin blocking President Biden’s all-but-entire agenda, and Biden’s approval ratings are in bad shape.

But Trump also catalyzed a major demographic and regional realignment in Pennsylvania, and national politics is more unsettled than it’s been in years, especially thanks to a feral right-wing Supreme Court majority that appears to be on the verge of repealing Roe v. Wade. Democrats just might have a shot, if they can fix their lagging performance in Philadelphia and hold on to the suburbs, or even better their margins there by winning upscale Republican and independent women appalled at the prospect of outlawing abortion.

OK, maybe gas prices will influence more voters. But that doesn’t mean Democrats should abandon whatever advantage can be gained from the extremism of Republican Supreme Court justices. As Cooper continues:

….Philadelphia will likely be the place where the statewide races are decided in 2022. It’s the largest county in the state by a big margin, containing about 12 percent of the population, it is majority-nonwhite—41 percent Black and 15 percent Latino—and it appears to be up for grabs like no other similarly sized pot of votes in the state. If Republicans can turn out the Trumpy hinterland and continue to make headway among the nonwhite urban working class, as they did in 2020, then Democrats are toast. But if Democrats can hold on to their suburban and rural margins, or better them in the Philly suburbs, and revitalize their performance in the urban core, then they’ve got a fighting chance.

….In better news for Democrats’ chances (though not for the American people), the conservative movement has recently launched an all-out attack on reproductive freedom and LGBT rights that puts it on the wrong side of a supermajority of the American people. The draft version of an upcoming Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, which is reliably supported by about 60 percent of Americans, could tilt the electoral balance toward the Democrats.

Especially when Republican candidates like [Gubernatorial nominee Doug] Mastriano are taking the GOP ‘brand’ to even more extreme places.

….Sure enough, in a recent debate Mastriano said he favored banning all abortion at six weeks (which would mean virtually all of them), with no exception for rape, incest, or the life of the mother—a position supported by only about 15 percent of Pennsylvania residents….These developments give state Democrats, particularly gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro, a powerful argument in their favor—especially in affluent suburbs, where this kind of gratuitous, atavistic cruelty drove voters away from Trump and where turnout is likely to be high. If Republicans take complete control of the state legislature and the governorship, they could well pass a total abortion ban, along with God knows what other deranged policy. A Governor Shapiro could at least block any such law.

“Nevertheless,” Cooper concludes, “it would be helpful for Democrats to make a positive argument as well. One strong argument for Fetterman would be that he could add one more seat to Democrats’ Senate majority, meaning that the party would no longer need to keep both Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on its side for every vote. A clear, explicit promise that should voters provide Democrats with control of the House and two more senators, they will pass a national legalization of abortion and gay marriage would fit the bill. Better still would be a credible plan to pass the Biden agenda on health care, family benefits, or climate change should Fetterman win—just as the promise to deliver $2,000 checks helped deliver two Senate seats to the Democrats in the Georgia runoffs in 2021.”

Democrats have a duty to publicize the January 6th hearings, and they may get some short horizon benefit in the polls. But it would be folly to count on the hearings making much of a difference in the midterm elections in November. The threat to the right of women to have dominion over their own bodies, however, is likely to endure as a front page issue all the way to election day. Work it hard in PA – but also in other states, where senate races are close.

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