Calmes: The Kansas abortion vote shows that populism can work for Democrats too

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. seemed to appreciate the crap he received from a friendly hearing abroad when he recently mocked foreign leaders by name, and even Prince Harry for criticizing the Supreme Court opinion he wrote. robbing Americans of their federal constitutional right to abortion

Most Americans, however, did not find Alito’s schtick amusing at all. And now the voters in Kansas – Kansas! The scarlet state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the United States Senate since Franklin Roosevelt was first elected – delivered its verdict on Alito’s work: No. With 18 percentage points, this week they voted for maintain the right to abortion in the constitution of their state.

Take that, Sam.

The unelected Alito, however, has a lifetime seat in the Supreme Court and has said he is not interested in the public reaction to his conservative decisions outside the mainstream. As he wrote in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the judges cannot worry about such “extraneous influences”.

Stipple style portrait illustration of Jackie Calmes


Jackie Calmes

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

You know who is concerned? Republicans who are not for life in their jobs and who face elections or re-election this fall. They and their managers have to worry about what the public thinks. And voter reaction in Kansas – the first election test on the issue since the 5-4 court decision in June that overturned half a century of precedent on abortion rights – now suggests a potential breakwater against the red wave Republicans are on. they were counting in November to wipe out them in control of Congress and senior state offices.

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

Republicans are still widely favored to win a majority in the House, but none other than former Republican Party chairman Michael Steele and George W. Bush political strategist Matthew Dowd predicted on MSNBC, after Kansas, that Democrats might keep. power in both chambers.

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

The Democratic Senate-majority PAC, for which Garin works, is now airing a video ad attacking Blake Masters, winner of this week’s Arizona Republican primary for running against Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, for favoring a national law against abortion without exception for rape, incest or the life of a pregnant woman. Kari Lake, Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, has greeted the Supreme Court for opening “a new chapter in Life … where we help women become the Mothers they should be”.

A closer look at the Kansas vote shows why Democrats have a new hope and Republicans a new fear: turnout.

Hundreds of thousands of Kansan more voted on the abortion measure of those who voted in the primaries of both parties, combined. The 900,000-plus voters were roughly double the total votes in the previous two Kansas midterm primary elections. Their number has approached the one million-plus voter turnout in the recent general election for the president.

So much for the Republican supermajority scheme in the Kansas legislature: it scheduled the abortion amendment vote for party primaries that typically have low Democratic turnout and are unfamiliar with the 3 politically unaffiliated voters. of Kansas out of 10, who usually can’t vote in them. Those independents could vote on the size of the vote and turned out to be against it.

Unsurprisingly, urban and suburban areas have provided much of the opposition to the anti-abortion amendment. But also 14 rural counties that overwhelmingly favored Donald Trump’s re-election in 2020.

That result was the vindication of the abortion rights strategy: to wrest the banner of “freedom” from the Republican Party and argue that, regardless of your view of abortion, the government should not make people’s medical decisions and enforce the pregnancy. Populism can work for both parties.

The lopsided Kansas result was also a victory for direct democracy in these increasingly undemocratic times. It contrasts the people’s choice with the race for the legislatures of the red state – Indiana, for example – to prohibit or severely limit abortion. These lawmakers are isolated from popular opinion by the gerrymandered districts; their only fear is a challenge from the far-right party if they show restraint.

For this reason, between now and the 2024 elections, Democrats will seek to present more abortion rights measures to the public wherever states allow ballot campaigns.

This perspective offers the opportunity to call Alito’s bluff. In his view of him, he essentially dared abortion rights advocates to use the ballot boxes to make their way into the United States. “Women are not without electoral or political power,” she wrote (without explaining why he doesn’t think men have a dog in this fight).

For Democrats, maintaining control of the Senate, fueled by the backlash of abortion rights, would be particularly rewarding. It would deprive Mitch McConnell of his hoped-for return as majority leader in January, a just revenge for the senator who broke the rules to create the Supreme Court supermajority that allowed Roe’s reversal.

Alito took the big win in June with his opinion of Dobbs. But voters can make sure they don’t get the last laugh.