Democrats are working to take full advantage on the campaign trail of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) proposed 15-week abortion ban, looking to back their opponents into a corner on an issue Republicans had spent months trying to pivot away from.
On Thursday, Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman called on Republican candidate Mehmet Oz to take a position on Graham’s proposal, while incumbent New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) warned that her GOP opponent Don Bolduc and congressional Republicans would push for a nationwide ban on the procedure if elected.
“Don Bolduc has said that he would never vote against anti-choice legislation and would clearly join Senate Republicans in voting to ban abortion nationwide,” said Sydney Petersen, a spokesperson for Hassan’s campaign. “His anti-choice record is dangerous and out of touch with New Hampshire, and is in stark contrast to Senator Hassan’s record of fighting for a woman’s fundamental freedom.”
In Ohio, Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan also railed against Graham’s proposed ban, telling the Cincinnati Enquirer that “this latest attack on women’s freedom is exactly” what his GOP opponent J.D. Vance wanted and “and exactly why Ohioans won’t let him anywhere near the Senate.”
Out West, incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D-Nev.) campaign wasted no time tying her GOP opponent Adam Laxalt to Graham’s bill.
“As Attorney General, Laxalt pushed for strict abortion bans across the country and even worked to restrict birth control access. He has focused his campaign on a statewide abortion ban that is even more restrictive than the federal ban proposed today, so there is no question he would support it if elected,” said Cortez-Masto spokesperson Josh Marcus-Blank.
Meanwhile, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly’s campaign similarly went on the offensive after his GOP opponent Blake Masters supported Graham’s proposed ban. Masters, for his part, defended his stance.
The issue was already working in Democrats’ favor before Graham thrust it once again into the spotlight, with victories on a ballot initiative vote in Kansas and other candidates like now-Rep. Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.) making it a centerpiece of their campaign. But the South Carolina Republican’s proposed legislation two months before the midterms gave them fresh ammunition even as it seemed to confuse and frustrate members of the GOP.
“Senate Republicans are showing voters exactly what they would do if they are in charge: pass a nationwide abortion ban and strip away women’s right to make our own health care decisions,” said Nora Keefe, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “For Americans of every political persuasion who value the freedom to make their own decisions about their family’s health care, the stakes of protecting and expanding our Democratic Senate majority in November have never been higher.”
On Tuesday, Graham introduced legislation that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy across the country except in the cases of rape, incest and situations where it would save the life of the mother. His announcement came roughly two months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Public backlash to the decision has grown since then, with numerous polls showing that a majority of Americans disagreed with the high court’s move.
Republicans and anti-abortion advocates also suffered electoral losses following the decision, such as in the aforementioned campaigns in Kansas and New York.
“Without Roe, it kind of crystalizes that this is a reality for folks,” said one national Democratic operative.
However, Republicans like Graham have attempted to use the issue to paint Democrats as extremists, specifically pointing to late-term abortion.
“We’re trying to take a position we think will rally the country to be more sympathetic to an unborn child,” Graham said at the press conference earlier this week.
Still, the issue has forced a number of Republican Senate candidates and campaigns to have to respond to Graham’s proposed abortion ban when they likely would rather be talking about other issues, like the economy. On top of that, Republicans are already facing an uphill battle to reclaim control of the majority in the upper chamber.
“It’s another example of Republicans already running into some challenging headwinds,” said one Republican strategist. “When you have an individual senator go off on their own and make their political calculations, they do it at the risk of our candidates and risking our ability to really challenge for a Senate majority.
The same strategist lamented Graham’s decision to announce the proposed ban hours after the Labor Department announced that inflation rose in August despite declining gas prices.
“The cherry on the cake was that he did it on the day that it was so devastatingly bad for the administration,” the GOP strategist said. “It just couldn’t have gone worse or come at a worse time.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) quickly tried to throw cold water on the proposal, reiterating his position that the issue should be handled at the state level.
“With regard to his bill, you’ll have to ask him about it. In terms of scheduling, I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level,” McConnell said.
Republican Senate candidates echoed McConnell’s comments this week on the campaign trail.
In New Hampshire, Bolduc put distance between himself and Graham’s proposal this week, arguing that the ban “doesn’t make sense.”
“Women on both sides of the issue will get a better voice at the state level,” Bolduc said.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, Laxalt’s campaign cited the state’s law on the procedure and raised doubts about whether Graham’s proposal would pass the Senate in the first place.
“This proposal has no chance to pass Congress and receive President Biden’s signature. The law in Nevada was settled by voters decades ago and isn’t going to change,” said Laxalt campaign spokesperson Brian Freimuth, according to the Nevada Independent.
Vance has not yet addressed Graham’s specific proposal but has said before that the issue should be left to the states. However, the Cincinnati Enquirer resurfaced a podcast interview Vance took part in earlier this year in which he said he would like the procedure to be banned nationally, but acknowledged a federal ban is unlikely at this moment.
Still, Democrats say they are hanging onto McConnell’s past comments from May, in which he said that a national abortion ban is “possible” if Roe was overturned during the summer.
“They have made clear where they stand on this issue,” the national Democratic operative said. “As far as Senate Republicans running this cycle, we’re going to make sure that voters see and hear what they have said in their own words.”