Published On: Tue, May 3rd, 2022

Democrats energized after leaked abortion decision jolts midterms

Not yet 24 hours after the publication of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn constitutional protections of abortion rights, Democrats at every level across the country were capitalizing on a potentially seismic shift in the political landscape that could upend what was to be a bloodbath of a midterm election for an otherwise disillusioned party.   

Attacks on Republican candidates are underway, as are a flurry of pleas for donations. Ads defending abortion rights are rapidly populating social media. The Democratic National Committee launched a text messaging campaign to move people to the streets, while some of the most powerful Democratic groups in the nation were huddling to reshape their messaging. 

“This decision and this leak — hell, that just re-stoked the fire in our bellies,” said Felesia Martin, vice chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “You know what I say? ‘God bless you and thank you.’ We’re going to take this and let it motivate us and re-energize us to do the work.”    

After Politico’s publication of the draft opinion Monday night, Martin said, rank-and-file Democrats were calling with offers to knock on doors, help organize rallies or lobby state lawmakers. In Madison, Wisconsin, a massive rally was expected at the Capitol early Tuesday evening. 

That was just one of the rallies planned around the country on Tuesday in a coordinated push by the DNC, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood and other national groups to move activists to courthouses, governors’ mansions and town squares to protest the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade.

JB Poersch, the president of the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC, told NBC News that his group will use radio, TV and digital ads, as well as door-to-door canvassing and field activity to remind voters of what’s at stake: the prospect that a Republican-led Senate would prevent Biden from filling Supreme Court vacancies and pursue a nationwide abortion ban.

“We’re going to make sure people understand this threat,” he said. 

It was already clear on Tuesday that battleground-state Democrats got the message.    

In Nevada, an activist group was already reaching out to Latinos to explain the draft decision and emphasize a renewed significance of the midterm elections. Abortion is legal in Nevada and Gov. Steve Sisolak, who is up for re-election, moved to boost funding of health care centers. But a Republican governor or GOP-led Legislature could slash those dollars or push for other barriers like parental consent, they argued.

“This is the wake-up call,” said Cecia Alvarado, executive director of Nevada’s Somos Votantes, an activist group that aims to engage Latinos in the battleground state. “We have been so busy holding political debates, that [Republicans] have taken advantage … of everyone talking about gas prices when they’re trying to dismantle our right to access a safe abortion.” 

In Michigan, Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said she’s been bombarded with calls and emails and online donations have ramped up since the news of the Supreme Court’s impending decision.   

“This has lit a fire under people,” Barnes said. “What it does is bring what was abstract into sharp relief. It makes it real for folks.”  

The probability that a conservative Supreme Court could overturn a 49-year-old law offers Democrats a clear and powerful message at a time when the party suffers from bleak poll numbers, an unpopular president and a deficiency in effective messaging, Democratic strategists say. The message now: Republicans will overreach if they’re not stopped.     

“It’s a giant leap backwards we’ve taken and now everything is on the table,” said Pete Giangreco, a national Democratic strategist who worked on Barack Obama’s campaign. “Whatever the radical right wants, this court will give them.”

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken last week found 2-to-1 national support for upholding Roe v. Wade. It said 54 percent of U.S. adults want to preserve the ruling, while 28 percent want to overturn it; 18 percent expressed no opinion. Surveys in recent years have shown particularly high support for protecting Roe among independent, suburban and college-educated women.

For all the attention that the abortion issue commands, Republican strategists say it’s not one they’ll emphasize in the upcoming midterm elections. They believe they can get more traction stressing what they see as voters’ chief day-to-day concerns: inflation, crime, and border security.

“Democrats are hoping they’ll be able to use this issue to get voters to forget they’re paying $4 for a gallon of gas and double what they’ve been paying at the grocery store, and they’ll stop caring about violent crime and the open border,” one Republican strategist said, requesting anonymity to talk more freely. “But until I see polling showing that’s the case, I don’t buy it.”

Ann Selzer, the veteran Iowa-based pollster, noted that polling does show one trend — Americans support upholding Roe v. Wade.   

“There may be a majority of Supreme Court justices that seek or are attempting to overturn Roe v. Wade, but it’s not the majority of the American public,” Selzer said. She added, however, that historically those who oppose abortion rights are typically more successful at mobilizing voters to the polls during elections.   

If the Supreme Court follows through and overturns Roe, Democrats run the risk of overreaching in ways that would hurt their candidates in the fall, GOP strategists said. If they try to add more justices to the Supreme Court or pass new laws removing restrictions on abortion, that could boomerang in ways that help Republicans on the ballot, they added.  

“There’s a chance that Democrats could overstep the bounds here,” another GOP strategist told NBC News, who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk more openly.

Both parties are hoping the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion will rev up fundraising as voters see the real-life consequences of national elections. One strategist who regularly conducts focus groups with voters predicted that Democrats are better positioned to see a windfall as a result of the unprecedented leak. 

Fundraising “always benefits the party that needs to win,” said Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump GOP strategist. “For a segment of the right, abortion goes away as a galvanizing issue. And now the left has a galvanizing issue. You take a galvanizing issue off the table” for Republicans and “you give it to the other side. I suspect that Planned Parenthood’s fundraising is going to be pretty robust.”

Adrienne Elrod, a longtime Democratic strategist, said: “It feels real. Millions of American women woke up this morning feeling nervous, or scared for their children, their friends, or anyone who has to go through this situation. And they’re ready to fight and do all they can to keep this from happening.”

Rallying on Capitol Hill Tuesday with about 40 Democratic senators, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., promised another vote and highlighted the stakes for the 2022 midterm elections and channeled the palpable anger at the impending Supreme Court decision. 

“To the American people, I say this: The elections this November will have consequences because the rights of a hundred million women are now on the ballot,” Schumer said. “To help fight this Court’s awful decision I urge every American to make their voices heard this week and this year.”

Some liberals say it is essential to prevent the anger from morphing into depression, and to remind voters that the party may control the White House and Congress but that it has slender majorities and codifying Roe requires electing more Democrats.

“We marched. We donated. We voted. We were the vast majority. And it didn’t matter,” progressive strategist Rebecca Katz said in a text message. “Democrats have to show voters that this fight isn’t over, and abortion rights are on the ballot this November no matter what the Supreme Court does in June.”

Republican leaders, assembled at a press conference, ignored the substance of the Supreme Court opinion. In a sign of GOP anxiety, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly refused to comment on the substance of the draft, saying that the story is “not a leaked draft but the fact that the draft was leaked.”

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