The surprise vote in Republican-heavy Kansas to repudiate a push for abortion bans fired shockwaves through the US political landscape ahead of November’s midterm elections, with President Joe Biden’s Democrats now seeing a glimmer of hope that they may avoid their predicted drubbing.
Ever since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to terminate a pregnancy in June, US conservatives have been nervously asking whether their triumphant push to severely restrict access to the procedure — a decades-long dream — has gone too far in the run-up to the midterms.
In Kansas, they got an answer.
The state is a Republican stronghold, but in Tuesday’s referendum, a bid to remove abortion rights from the Kansas constitution was rejected by 59 to 41 percent, with unusually heavy turnout.
Given this was the first time Americans had an opportunity to vote on the issue since the conservative-dominated Supreme Court ruled to overturn the half-century-old Roe v. Wade decision enshrining abortion rights, Democrats are celebrating the result — and say a major backlash is only beginning.
“The court practically dared women in this country to go to the ballot box and restore the right to choose that the court had just ripped away after 50 years,” Biden said at the White House where he signed an executive order that aims to help Americans who travel to get an abortion when their own state makes it impossible.
“They don’t have a clue about the power of American women. Last night in Kansas, they found out.”
Later, he predicted that outrage over the issue would drive “record numbers” of voters.
Planned Parenthood, which lobbies for abortion access, called the Kansas vote “a clear warning to anti-abortion politicians.” The organization’s president, Alexis McGill Johnson, also called on voters to keep up the momentum into the midterms.
“We have the opportunity to protect abortion access at the ballot box in November. We know that Kansas will not be our last fight or our last victory.”
– Trump card –
The November midterms, which will decide which party controls Congress for the last two years of Biden’s first term, are shaping up as rough for Democrats who even now only control the legislature by a few votes.
Blamed by voters for soaring inflation — at a four-decade high — and widespread pessimism in the messy aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Democrats are forecast to lose at least the House of Representatives and maybe the Senate.
This would likely make Biden a lame duck, turning Washington into an even uglier political battlefield than it is today.
And abortion is not the only reason the midterms campaign will bring ideological tensions to a boil.
Donald Trump is pushing hardline right-wing candidates to boost his brand and possibly set the stage for his own attempted White House comeback in 2024.
Several candidates endorsed by Trump won primary votes held around the United States on Tuesday at the same time as the Kansas referendum, signaling that the disgraced ex-president remains a force.
In Michigan, one of the handful of House Republicans who dared join Democrats in impeaching Trump as president was tossed out, replaced by a former Trump administration official.
Trump’s candidate for the Senate, Blake Masters, won the Republican primary in the swing state of Arizona.
And Trump’s candidate for the sensitive post of Arizona secretary of state, a key figure in running elections, also won. Mark Finchem, a supporter of Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, has ties to a far-right militia.
– ‘Extremists’ –
Increasingly, Democrats are seeking to link that Trump surge and the abortion dispute, arguing that the midterms will be a battle not just between two parties but generally between political moderates and growing extremism.
Across the country, Democrats have even gone so far as to pay for advertising boosting Trump’s primary candidates — the theory being that they will be easier to beat in November than more moderate Republicans.
For example, according to The New York Times, the Democratic side spent about $627,000 on advertising in Maryland to help Trump-endorsed candidate Dan Cox — another 2020 election lie supporter — win his Republican gubernatorial primary.
In a speech to the Democratic National Committee late Wednesday, Biden homed in on the emerging campaign message.
Referring to Trump’s Make America Great Again movement, Biden told Democratic organizers that democracy itself is “at risk from extremists in the MAGA Republican Party.”
“We need to make clear to this country this year just how critical and fundamental choices between us and the MAGA Republicans (are),” he said.