Republicans reeled after Tuesday’s election results which overwhelmingly served as a rebuke of their position on abortion.
Gov Andy Beshear, a Democrat, overwhelmingly won re-election in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s backyard in Kentucky when he beat Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Mr McConnell’s hand-picked protege.
While Mr Beshear touted investment in the state, his handling of Covid-19 and natural disasters and his support for public education, he leaned heavily into his support for abortion rights and his opponent’s opposition to abortion, most notably running an ad of a young woman who was raped at the age of 12 who criticised Mr Cameron for opposing the procedure in cases of rape and incest.
In Ohio, voters backed an amendment to the state’s constitution to guarantee the right to an abortion in a state that has trended Republican in recent elections. Then, in Virginia, voters flipped the state’s House of Delegates to the Democrats and kept the state senate blue. That punctured the 2024 presidential aspirations of the Commonwealth’s Republican Gov Glenn Youngkin.
The election results are just the latest evidence that voter anger about the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v Jackson decision that overturned Roe v Wade last year has not dissipated. And that might be bad news for Republicans.
“It just means that the Republican platform sucks, and that's not what America wants,” Sen John Fetterman (D-PA) told The Independent. Mr Fetterman, of course, largely won his Senate seat in Pennsylvania last year on the back of the Dobbs backlash, especially when his Republican opponent, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz said that “women, doctors, local political leaders” should make decisions on abortion.
“And unfortunately, the states have to rebuild abortion in after the Supreme Court, but that's exactly what they're doing because that's what the people want,” he said.
And Republicans seem to understand that abortion motivates voters. Sen Thom Tillis (R-NC) tried to note that all three contests were low-turnout races. But he also warned that this could lead to Democrats putting more abortion referendums on state ballots come 2024.
“Republicans need to recognize this an issue, we shouldn't have to run from it,” he said. “We should tell people that they're the unreasonable position are the Democrats who literally want taxpayer funded abortion on demand for minors without the consent of their parents.”
Mr Tillis noted how in North Carolina a 12-week abortion ban passed in the state legislature, which overcame a veto from the state’s Democratic Gov Roy Cooper, who is term-limited. The state’s Democratic chairwoman, Anderson Clayton, told me earlier this year that abortion will be a major catalyst in the state come 2024.
Of course, Mr Youngkin in Virginia tried to do just that and find a third way. His political action committee ran ads arguing in Virginia that Republicans did not support banning abortion, saying “there is no ban” but rather supported a “reasonable limit” of 15 weeks in Virginia. Voters in Virginia spat that out.
As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen Steve Daines (R-MT) is responsible for helping Republicans flip the Senate.
“We've got some work to do to get Republican turnout,” he said.
He only needs to flip two seats and tried to craft a message, saying Republicans do not support a federal ban on abortions.
“That's a lie here you hear from the Democrats,” he told me. “We'd have exception for rape, incest and life of the mother and we should put reasonable limits on late term abortions. The Democrats have taken the most radical position and that is no limits. taxpayer funded abortions, up until the point of birth.”
But Sen Susan Collins (R-ME) told The Independent it was deeply concerning.
“I think it demonstrates that even a lot of individuals who are personally pro life don't want government involved in such a personal decision,” she said.
On Wednesday, Sen Sherrod Brown (D-OH) praised the election results.
“It’s clear that that voters overwhelmingly said women and their doctors should make these decisions, not a bunch of politicians in Columbus that was a clear, clear message, clear vote,” he told me.
As the last statewide elected Democrat in Ohio, Republicans would love to knock off Mr Brown, who has had unique crossover appeal. But he added that it would not be the main focus of his campaign.
“I don't know,” he said. “I know that, my three Republicans in the primary in March, all of them are for a nationwide ban, and it’s clear they’re out of step with the public. And it's clear they're out of step with the public. So I'm not going to lead talking about abortion. But the contrast is so clear.”
Sen Tina Smith (D-MN), the sole Senator who worked at a Planned Parenthood, told The Independent that it showed how important abortion rights are to voters.
“It shows that voters want reproductive freedom and they want to support candidates that are on their side on that,” she said.
Of course, some Republicans are unfazed.
“It’s not Alabama,” Sen Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) told The Independent.
“It’s not the first one. Kansas was same way,” he said, referring to how Kansas pushed back a ballot referendum to restrict abortion.
Mr Tuberville, of course is angering Senators in both parties as he blocks military promotions in protest of the Pentagon’s policy that reimburses servicemembers to travel to a state where abortion is more accessible.