Kansas abortion vote shows populism can work for Democrats, too

In this photo from Thursday, July 14, 2022, a sign in a yard in Merriam, Kansas, is urging voters to oppose a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution to allow lawmakers to further restrict or ban abortion.  Opponents of the measure believe it will lead to an abortion ban in Kansas.  (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansans voted overwhelmingly against ending their state’s constitutional protections for abortion rights. (John Hanna/Associated Press)

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. seemed to enjoy the mess he got from a friendly audience abroad when… he recently mocked foreign leaders by name, as well as Prince Harry, for criticizing the Supreme Court opinion he wrote and depriving Americans of their federal constitutional right to abortion.

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

Take that, Sam.

However, the unelected Alito has a lifelong seat on the Supreme Court and he has claimed he is not concerned about public reaction to his conservative decisions outside the mainstream. As he wrote in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, judges can not worry about such “foreign influences.”

do you know who is Worried? Republicans who are not tenured in their jobs, and who face elections or reelection this fall. They and their attendants should care about what the public thinks. And the Kansas voter response — the first electoral test of the issue since the June 5-4 decision that overturned half a century of abortion rights precedents — now suggests a potential breakwater against the red wave that Republicans are facing in November charged to sweep them gain control of Congress and the highest state offices.

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

Republicans are still widely favored to win the House majority, but no less than former Republican Party chairman Michael Steele and George W. Bush political strategist Matthew Dowd predicted on MSNBCpost-Kansas, that Democrats could stay in power in both houses.

But few other states are expected to have abortion rights this fall, to act in the same way as a magnet that draws pro-choice voters to the polls. The challenge for Democrats is to get Republican candidates to personify the threat to reproductive freedom, either in the states or in Congress, where Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has joined the call for a nationwide ban. “Republicans make it really easy to do that,” Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said, given the far-right extremism of the candidates they nominate.

The Senate majority PAC of the Democrats, which Garin works for, is now airing video ad attacking Blake Masters, winner of this week’s Republican primary in Arizona to take on Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, for supporting a national anti-abortion law with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of a pregnant woman female. Kari Lake, Republican nominee for governor in Arizona, has praised the Supreme Court for opening “a new chapter of life…where we help women become the mothers they are meant to be.”

A closer look at the Kansas vote reveals why Democrats have new hopes and Republicans new fears: the turnout.

Hundreds of thousands more Chances voted on the abortion measure than in both parties’ primary elections combined. The more than 900,000 voters were about double the total votes in the two previous Kansas midterm elections. Their numbers approached the turnout of more than a million from the recent general presidential election.

So much for the scheming of the Republican supermajority in the Kansas legislature: It scheduled the vote on the abortion amendment for party primaries that typically have low Democratic turnout and are unknown to Kansas’ 3 out of 10 politically unaffiliated voters, who usually don’t. can vote in them. Those independents were allowed to vote on the ballot measure, and they turned out to be against it.

Not surprisingly, urban and suburban areas formed much of the opposition to the anti-abortion amendment. But so did it 14 rural provinces That was overwhelmingly in favor of Donald Trump’s reelection in 2020.

That result was the justification for the strategy on the part of abortion rights: stripping the Republican party of the “freedom” flag and claiming that regardless of your view on abortion, the government should not make people’s medical decisions and mandate pregnancy. Populism can work for both parties.

The skewed outcome in Kansas was also a victory for direct democracy in these increasingly anti-democratic times. Compare the popular choice to the rush in the red state legislature — Indiana, for example — to ban or severely restrict abortion. These legislators are isolated from public opinion by gerrymandered districts; their only fear is a far-right party challenge if they show moderation.

For that reason, between now and the 2024 election, Democrats will try to push for more abortion rights measures to the public, where states allow voter initiatives on the ballot.

This prospect offers the opportunity to call Alito’s bluff. In his view, he was essentially challenging abortion rights advocates to use the ballot box to get their way in the states. “Women are not without electoral or political power,” he wrote (without explaining why he thinks men don’t have a dog in this struggle).

It would be particularly gratifying if Democrats retained control of the Senate, made possible by the backlash on abortion rights. It would deprive Mitch McConnell of his hoped-for return as majority leader in January — a fitting retaliation for the senator who broke the norms to create the Supreme Court supermajority power that enabled Roe’s turnaround.

Alito took the big win in June with his Dobbs opinion. But voters can make sure he doesn’t have the last laugh.


This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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