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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Abortion Rights Still a Key Concern in Swing Districts

If you were wondering how the abortion rights issue is playing as a potential game-changer in southern congressional districts, check out “In swing districts, NC’s new abortion law is already having an impact. Here’s how” by Avi Bajpai and Genna Contino at The Charlotte Observer. As they write:

Around Wilmington, the impending passage of a 12-week abortion ban last month energized Democrats and supporters of abortion rights to keep up the pressure on Republicans. That meant over the course of one day calling and emailing the offices of three state lawmakers representing the area, every three minutes between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., as well as helping Planned Parenthood raise nearly $140,000 in one day, according to Jill Hopman, chair of the New Hanover County Democratic Party.

“If I had to pick a silver lining, the response towards mobilization and activism over the past month and a half has been exponential compared to the past,” Hopman said.

Certainly it’s good news for Democrats that the issue still has political traction this long after the Dobbs decision. But that’s no guarantee that it will be a priority for swing voters in the Fall of 2024.

Bajpai and Contino note that things have gotten a bit hot for abortion rights opponents in NC’s swing districts.

“On the receiving end were Republicans like Rep. Ted Davis, a retired attorney in Wilmington who has served in the House for more than a decade. Davis said in the days leading up to the May 16 vote to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, he received more than 5,000 phone calls, emails, and texts from his district, across the state, and outside of it as well.

Davis said he had never before received such an outpouring of response from constituents, which he said included impassioned messages from people on both sides of the issue who felt strongly about the bill, but also “some of the ugliest comments against me and my family.”

“How the new law is being received by voters will be especially important next year in swing districts where races are decided by thin margins,” argue Contino and Bajpai. Further,

When he vetoed the abortion bill last month, Cooper targeted Davis and three other GOP lawmakers who he said had violated campaign promises to keep the existing 20-week law in place, visiting their Wilmington and Charlotte-area districts to put pressure on the Republicans and try to get even one of them to vote to sustain his veto.

That didn’t happen, and the law is going into effect, but those parts of the state will be important targets for both parties leading up to the 2024 elections.

The law, which reduces the timeframe for when most abortions are allowed from 20 weeks to 12 weeks and goes into effect on July 1, is expected to be a major, campaign-defining issue for Democrats, who have vowed to fight the new restrictions. For Republicans, abortion politics will undoubtedly look different, with some candidates expected to divert attention from the new law and focus on other issues, and others expected to proactively campaign on enacting even stricter laws.

Bajpai and Contino note that “A new poll released Wednesday by Elon University, in partnership with The N&O and The Charlotte Observer, asked 1,268 registered North Carolina voters how they felt about the new law. In it, 45% of voters said they opposed the law, while 23% said they supported it. The remaining 33% said they neither supported nor opposed the new restrictions.” However, “When they heard details about the law, support for it grew to 36%, but opposition held steady at 45%.”

“In the days after Republicans passed the bill and sent it to Cooper’s desk,” Bajpai and Contino write, “the term-limited governor repeatedly called out Wilmington-area lawmakers Davis and Sen. Michael Lee, and Charlotte-area Reps. John Bradford and Tricia Cotham, for supporting their party’s abortion bill.”

Further, “in areas like Wilmington, Democrats have been encouraged by the strong opposition to the law that has surfaced.

Chairman of the New Hanover County Democrats Jill Hopman adds, “I do think Republicans are overplaying their hand, kind of like overturning Roe, as we’ve seen in other states from Wisconsin to Kansas…We’ve had this lawfully since the early ‘70s, and I don’t think people really think about the consequences until they make giant changes like this.”

The attitudes spotlighted by Contino and Bajpai are generally in keeping with a recent opinion polls, nationwide, although moderated in southern states.

Conservative churches, which often oppose abortion rights, still hold a lot of sway in the rural south. In urban and suburban districts in the south, however, polling and election data indicate that abortion rights is still an issue that Democrats can leverage for favorable outcomes.

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