Dems Smell Blood In The Water After Arizona Abortion Ruling. Republicans Are Scrambling To Respond

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Mary Lou Masters Contributor
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On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court allowed an 1864 law to be enforced that effectively restricted abortion in all cases except when the life of the mother is in danger. The decision has supercharged the issue of abortion amid an already-contentious election year, forcing Republicans running in the battleground state to address not only the ruling, but the legal status of abortion itself.

Conversations with strategists and campaigns reveal that many Republicans are acutely aware of the impact the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling could have on races up and down the ballot. However, there is no consensus on how to approach the issue.

Meanwhile, with a constitutional amendment to establish a right to abortion likely to be on the ballot, Arizona has become a focal point for Democrats.

President Joe Biden’s campaign launched a seven-figure Arizona ad buy just two days after the decision, targeting young, female and Hispanic voters; House Democrats’ campaign arm fired off attacks on incumbent Republican members of Congress; and Rep. Ruben Gallego, the Democratic Senate candidate, debuted a digital ad hitting Republican candidate Kari Lake for past abortion comments.

The ruling and abortion ballot measure are also expected to boost Democratic voter turnout; nonpartisan elections analyst Sabato’s Crystal Ball shifted key races in Arizona to more competitive categories, explaining that “we can’t imagine a major ballot fight over abortion rights would hurt Democratic turnout efforts in the state, and it very well could help.”

“I really think that the Supreme Court’s decision upends Arizona’s elections, and you have to almost re-evaluate every race up and down the ballot,” Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based Republican strategist, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Yet Republicans so far have been mixed in their responses.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA – FEBRUARY 29: (Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

‘Invest Heavily’

The DCNF reached out to all major Republican campaigns in the state, as well as the House and Senate GOP campaign arms and major fundraising vehicles, to gauge Republicans’ strategy.

Some groups and campaigns have acknowledged that the ruling could potentially galvanize Democratic turnout and attract donor funding, stressing the need to spend funds accordingly.

“We are fighting back, and we will be running an aggressive, grassroots campaign to protect our state from the radical left,” a spokesperson for the Arizona Republican Party told the DCNF.

Others, meanwhile, are less concerned, arguing that the ruling does little to change the ballot’s dynamic.

“Democrats are already going to turn out; like, Donald Trump’s on the ballot,” one national Republican strategist told the DCNF.

Trump’s national press secretary, Karoline Leavitt, re-emphasized Trump’s recent abortion stance, in which the former president came out against a national ban and argued in favor of leaving the issues to the states, in a statement to the DCNF, but didn’t answer specific questions related to actions the campaign might take.

“President Trump could not have been more clear. These are decisions for people of each state to make,” Leavitt said.

Trump also came out against the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision for going “too far” in a Truth Social post on April 12, and called on the state legislature and Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs to quickly “remedy what has happened.”

Nevertheless, Biden’s ad blitz took aim at Trump’s abortion stance. “Because of Donald Trump, millions of women lost the fundamental freedom to control their own bodies,” Biden says in the video, referencing the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 with the help of Trump-appointed justices. “Women’s lives are in danger because of that.”

Gallego has also sought to bring attention to the abortion issue since the ruling, running an ad that calls Lake “wrong on abortion,” “wrong for the Senate” and “wrong for Arizona.”

For her part, Lake has come out against the state Supreme Court’s decision, calling for a “common sense solution.” She also announced her support for Trump’s abortion position on April 8, and subsequently released a policy video on the issue.

“I chose life, but I’m not every woman. I want to make sure that every woman who finds herself pregnant has more choices so that she can make that choice that I made,” Lake said in the video. “I never would ever assume that any woman had the same exact feelings I had or situation I had. We know that some women are economically in a horrible situation, they might be in an abusive relationship, they might be the victim of rape.”

“Republicans need to talk about what they believe on the abortion issue. Like, they have to. And I think Kari Lake’s doing a pretty good job of that,” the national Republican strategist said.

Lake’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Tate Mitchell, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), told the DCNF that “Arizona is one of our top pick-up opportunities this year, and we will continue working to elect Kari Lake and defeat open-borders, far-left radical Ruben Gallego.”

The Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), a super PAC boosting Senate Republicans, emphasized to the DCNF that the only spending decisions they’ve made are in Montana and Ohio. SLF pointed the DCNF toward a June 2023 polling memo released by its affiliated nonprofit, One Nation, encouraging Republicans to make their position on abortion clear.

Another national GOP strategist told the DCNF that “national Republicans are still planning to invest heavily in television ads and ground game in Arizona.”

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee (RNC) referred the DCNF toward Trump’s Truth Social post criticizing the state Supreme Court’s decision, as well as an April 10 campaign press release calling Biden’s attacks on the former president over abortion “dishonest.” The RNC did not provide further details on its efforts to combat Democrats’ spending in the state.

On the House front, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is targeting the districts of Reps. David Schweikert and Juan Ciscomani.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball also moved Ciscomani’s seat from “Leans Republican” to “Toss-Up” on Wednesday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment; neither did the campaigns for Schweikert and Ciscomani.

The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a super PAC boosting House Republicans, said it spent nearly $1 million for Schweikert’s race in the 2022 midterms, as well as over $3 million for Ciscomani.

“CLF was proud to support Schweikert and Ciscomani last cycle, and we are prepared to do what it takes to help these talented Members win again this fall,” Courtney Parella, communications director for CLF, told the DCNF in a statement.

MESA, ARIZONA – OCTOBER 09: Former U.S. President Donald Trump embraces Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake at a campaign rally at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona. Trump was stumping for Arizona GOP candidates ahead of the midterm election on November 8. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

‘Decided By Arizonans’

Arizona Republicans are similarly divided on what should be the legal status of abortion itself.

For instance, Republicans in the Arizona state legislature have twice blocked efforts to repeal the 1864 law after the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

“From a messaging standpoint, [the ruling] makes it a lot more difficult on Republicans, and I think in some of the swing congressional races and legislative races, it’s just gonna make this an issue for the foreseeable future unless the legislature can figure a way out,” Brian Murray, former Arizona Republican Party executive director, told the DCNF.

Lawmakers who blocked the law’s repeal, as well as the state Freedom Caucus, have expressed support for the decision, while Schweikert and Ciscomani, like Lake, have opposed it.

“This issue should be decided by Arizonans, not legislated from the bench,” Schweikert wrote on April 9. “I encourage the state legislature to address this issue immediately.”

“The territorial law is archaic,” Ciscomani said the same day. “We must do better for women and I call on our state policymakers to immediately address this in a bipartisan manner.”

The opposition from prominent Republicans to the Arizona Supreme Court’s abortion ruling could mitigate Democrats’ turnout boost, according to polling analyst Jon McHenry.

“Typically where there’s been something on the ballot, it has helped Democrats — there’s kind of no way around it. The Arizona situation is going to be an interesting case, because you have so many high profile Republicans saying that this really went too far,” said McHenry. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens with turnout when you have Republicans, essentially on the same side, saying, ‘we need to repeal this.’”

Nevertheless, the congressmen’s Democratic opponents have launched salvos against them over abortion, while the House Democratic campaign arm charged that Schweikert and Ciscomani are “backpedaling on their stance on abortion,” adding that “Arizona voters will remember that they remain hell-bent on controlling women and dragging this country backwards.”

The DCCC launched a mobile billboard in Schweikert’s district targeting the Republican over his voting record on in-vitro fertilization, The Copper Courier reported on April 11.

The Arizona GOP has yet to release a statement on the ruling, while the state Democratic Party has launched numerous attacks against Lake, Ciscomani and Schweikert over the issue.

‘Tough Year For Republicans’

Arizona’s importance in the presidential election between Trump and Biden, as well as the relatively narrow margins of victory in past Senate races, make correct handling of the abortion issue all the more important to the GOP. The state’s presidential, Senate and congressional races may be decided by just a few thousand votes this cycle, meaning that potentially increased Democratic turnout is particularly significant.

“This is going to be a tough year for Republicans in Arizona in a year that should be good. I mean, Joe Biden has a lot of headwinds here in Arizona,” Marson said. “[Before the ruling], I would have said that Arizona is a lean-Trump state … And today? I would say that Arizona is a lean-Biden state.” (RELATED: Elections Analysis Delivers Bad News For Arizona Republicans Following Landmark Abortion Ruling)

Trump narrowly won Arizona in 2016, but lost the state to Biden in 2020 by fewer than 11,000 votes.

Yet Trump has led Biden in the RealClearPolitics average for Arizona all cycle, and is currently up by 4.5 points, with Democrats hoping the abortion issue will help cut into Trump’s lead as election day approaches.

Abortion played a significant role in motivating Democratic voters during the 2022 midterms following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, according to a KFF/AP VoteCast analysis.

However, in a presidential election year, this effect may not be as strong.

“A presidential race is going to have literally armies of get-out-the-vote workers,” Murray told the DCNF. “If you don’t vote this time, or didn’t the last time, it’s because you really didn’t want to. So I don’t think you can get turnout much higher than it’s gonna be.”

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster for Biden’s 2020 campaign, told the DCNF that the state Supreme Court’s ruling “keeps the issue alive not just in Arizona, but everywhere.”

“It helps the Senate race, it helps the presidential, it helps with turnout, it helps with persuasion of suburban women in Phoenix and Tucson. So it’s very, very positive for winning the state, as well as the initiative in the state,” said Lake. “This is the big difference post-Dobbs — where the pro-abortion side is more energized than the anti-abortion side, and they’re bigger.”

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