(Bloomberg) -- The Supreme Court pushed abortion firmly to the forefront of US elections this year, with Democrats hoping that voter outrage over the end of Roe v. Wade will eclipse economic angst weighing on the party’s fortunes.
The ruling Friday overturning the landmark 1973 decision immediately triggered abortion bans and restrictions in some states and opened the door for other states to follow, demonstrating the power of a decades-long conservative push to reshape the high court.
President Joe Biden pledged in a White House speech to do what he can to ensure access to abortion, but he warned that isn’t much. He called on voters to elect more Democrats to codify Roe.
The view in competitive congressional races is trickier, with candidates placing varying emphasis on abortion as voters show more concern about high prices.
“The smart messaging in all of these states will be highlighting how truly extreme the Republicans are,” said Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist who has warned that Democrats risk losing the abortion debate if they don’t engage Republicans in battleground states. “Where I see it coming into play is in a lot of governor’s races.”
If the ruling energizes their voters, Democrats could reap the benefit even as the party suffers from decades-high inflation and Biden’s poor approval ratings. The president’s party typically loses congressional seats in first-term midterm elections.
A leaked draft of the Roe decision in May had already upended the midterm election cycle. Republicans, who had been outspending Democrats two-to-one on abortion-related political ads this year, started shifting away from the issue immediately, while Democrats ramped up their abortion messaging.
Since the leak, a Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 56% of registered voters believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared with 35% who said it should be illegal.
Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs his party’s re-election committee in the House, said the Roe decision emphasizes the contrast Democrats will draw with “MAGA Republicans,” who he said seek to “ban abortions in all 50 states.”
“For millions of Americans, I think they’re going be getting a clear picture of the choice in November,” Maloney said as he walked to a protest outside the Supreme Court.
Representative Sara Jacobs, a California Democrat who was also at the protest, said her office would work with candidates in tough races to highlight abortion access as a choice.
“Obviously, people are still concerned about the economy, the cost of goods, and we’re going to have to address all of them,” she said. “But this is one more example of the extreme radical agenda that Republicans will be pushing.”
Whether it will generate a tailwind for Democrats at a time of heightened inflation remains unclear. As recently as March, abortion rated so far down the list of the nation’s top problems that it didn’t show up in Gallup polls.
Now, 5% tell Gallup that abortion is the most important issue. But that compares to 37% for the economy, with most of those voters citing inflation as the top economic issue.
Representative Matt Cartwright -- a Pennsylvania Democrat whose district includes Biden’s home town, and where voters backed Trump in 2016 and 2020 -- said abortion doesn’t factor heavily in his district.
“There are other more contentious issues,” he said. “Inflation is at the top of everybody’s list right now.”
Biden risks alienating his own voters if he’s unable to give the impression he’s fighting on an issue where the presidency has scant unilateral power. After delivering his speech, Biden did not respond to questions, including whether he supports preserving the Senate filibuster on abortion legislation.
“Yes, we absolutely have to codify Roe, but I’ll tell you I’m a little frustrated with my own party because we’ve had 50 years to get this done and yet we haven’t prioritized it,” Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who is seeking the Democratic Senate nomination in the state, said a day before the ruling in a campaign speech.
Lucas Kunce, who’s seeking the Democratic Senate nomination in conservative Missouri -- one of the states where abortion access effectively ended Friday following the ruling -- said the issue can’t wait until the midterms and called on Democrats to eliminate the filibuster.
Representative Angie Craig, a Minnesota Democrat, said she expects the ruling to be a wake-up call.
“My constituents, they want the freedom to decide their own health care. They do not want the government in the doctor’s room with them,” she said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats need to hold the House to prevent Republicans from enacting a nationwide abortion ban. “They cannot be allowed to have a majority in Congress, that is their goal,” Pelosi said.
In Pennsylvania -- a crucial swing state with races for governor and the Senate -- the issue was already prominent. Outgoing Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has vetoed two restrictive abortion bills passed by a Republican legislature. And the first Democratic attack ad of the general election in the gubernatorial race was on the issue of abortion, quoting the Republican nominee, Doug Mastriano, saying: “‘My body, my choice’ is ridiculous nonsense.”
John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for Senate, made support for abortion rights a central part of his primary campaign, calling Roe v. Wade “sacred” and “non-negotiable.”
Representative Tim Ryan, the Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio, joined protesters outside the Supreme Court on Friday.
“We’ve got to have a big election this year and it can’t be one-off -- it has to be a sustained movement of Americans expanding rights,” he told MSNBC in an interview outside the court.
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