Abortion ballot measures could lift Dems in U.S. House races, campaign chief says

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Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Suzan DelBene speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 19, 2023. DelBene spoke to reporters Friday, May 17, 2024, about how abortion will affect U.S. House races in November. (Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Suzan DelBene told reporters Friday that ballot questions on abortion access, which will go before voters in several states this November, can help vulnerable Democratic candidates in swing districts — potentially increasing the odds the U.S. House flips from red to blue.

“We’ve seen huge turnout as a result of that over and over in elections since November of 2022,” DelBene said during a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “And I have no doubt we’re going to continue to see that all the way through.”

The Washington state Democrat, who was elected to Congress in 2012 and leads House Democrats’ campaign arm this election cycle, said that reproductive rights will also be a crucial issue for voters in swing districts that don’t have a ballot question on access.

“Folks support women’s reproductive rights across the country,” DelBene said. “And that’s going to be a huge issue. And for some people, it is the issue.”

Democrats in Congress have been unable to restore nationwide abortion protections that existed for nearly 50 years under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade case and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling.

Conservative Supreme Court justices voted to overturn those two rulings in the Dobbs decision that was released in 2022, writing that “the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”

The court is expected to rule this summer on two additional cases related to abortion access, just months before voters head to the polls.

One originally filed in Texas will determine whether access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortion, can remain available as it is now or revert to prescribing instructions in place before 2016. The court heard oral arguments in March.

The second case, out of Idaho, has to do with whether doctors who provide abortion as “stabilizing care” when the pregnant patient’s life or health is at risk are protected from prosecution under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

Since the Supreme Court ended nationwide protections for abortion access, voters in several states — including Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio — have voted to keep or instill abortion access as a right.

Voters in numerous other states, including Arizona, Florida and Montana, are likely to have the issue directly on their ballots later this year, as well as candidates from president on down.

Federal legislation

DelBene said Friday that Democrats will bring legislation to the floor to restore nationwide protections for abortion, should they retake the House.

“That will be one of our top priorities, to make sure that we pass the Women’s Health Protection Act again,” DelBene said. “But I’m also hopeful that we will keep the Senate and be able to move forward.”

The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter projects that Republicans are on track to pick up between one and four seats in the Senate, likely moving that chamber of Congress from blue to red.

Should Democrats flip the House, that would mean a continuation of divided government, regardless of who wins the presidential contest.

The Cook Political Report forecasts 203 seats are at least leaning toward Democratic control while 210 are rated as solid, likely or lean Republican. That leaves 22 seats in the toss up category, with a total of 218 needed for one party to control the chamber.

Jessica Taylor, editor for U.S. Senate and governors at CPR, wrote in an update released Friday that the upper chamber “remains beyond precarious for Democrats.”

“There is no room for error — and if President Joe Biden loses reelection, they will have already lost the majority whether they run the table in all the competitive seats or not,” Taylor wrote.

Young voters

DelBene said during the breakfast at a hotel in Washington, D.C., that turnout will be “critical” and that Democrats will be especially focused on younger voters showing up at the polls.

“Traditionally, younger voters haven’t turned out as much,” she said. “So that absolutely is a top priority.”

DelBene took several questions about whether those younger voters would actually back Democratic candidates or Biden, given the increase in protests on college campuses and concern within the progressive wing about the increasing civilian death toll from the ongoing war in Gaza.

The top issues for younger voters, DelBene said, are “making sure that they are going to have economic opportunity going forward and that they’re going to be in a position where they can have the same opportunities that their parents said that they’re going to have, the same rights and freedoms that their parents did.”

Candidates in purple districts should speak “authentically” with voters when they’re asked about their stance on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, she said.

“My advice for candidates has always been, ‘It’s important for you to have an authentic voice and talk about what you would do, how you feel on issues.’ Because people can tell if someone’s scripted and not really talking about their feelings,” DelBene said. “And on such an important issue, I think, it’s really important that people talk authentically about their positions, what they think needs to happen.”

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