Will Roe decision mobilize Democratic voters?

·8 min read

Jul. 3—Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, most of the statements from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's campaign Twitter account have centered on abortion rights.

"We have long feared this moment and I'm going to continue to fight like hell to ensure every New Mexico woman has access to reproductive health care," states the first in a series of tweets from the incumbent Democrat.

The governor's dispatches on abortion and women's rights likely will last through the summer and continue through November's gubernatorial election, as Democrats use the issue to mobilize voters — and outline her differences with Republican nominee Mark Ronchetti.

For now, at least, the issue is hot, and Democrats expect — or at least hope — the decision to overturn the landmark ruling that established abortion rights in the U.S. will be a key inflection point for voters, particularly women.

"This is definitely motivating to voters because I think New Mexicans understand now that fundamental rights like access to abortion, access to emergency contraception, the guarantee of marriage equality and more depends on the outcome of the 2022 midterms," said Delaney Corcoran, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of New Mexico.

Meanwhile, Ronchetti, who describes himself as "strongly pro-life," has taken a more moderate position on abortion since the primary to try to woo voters.

But he outlines his position, one that came under scrutiny during the primary, Ronchetti also is on the offensive — attempting to paint Lujan Grisham as the candidate with extremist views the issue.

After the high court's ruling, Ronchetti issued a statement saying he would seek a "middle ground" with the Legislature, now controlled by Democrats in both chambers, to end "the practice of late-term and partial-birth abortion."

"I believe permitting abortion up to 15 weeks and in cases involving rape, incest, and when a mother's life is at risk is a very reasonable position that most in New Mexico will support regardless of party affiliation," Ronchetti said.

Enrique Knell, a spokesman for Ronchetti's campaign, reiterated Ronchetti's anti-abortion stance.

"The governor's position on this issue is extreme — allowing abortion up to birth with zero restrictions," Knell wrote in an email. "That's just not in line with New Mexicans' values or positions on this issue."

Lujan Grisham "wants our state to be some sort of late-term abortion tourist destination," he wrote. "Mark has outlined a better approach."

Nevertheless, Ronchetti's position conflicts with that of his running mate, lieutenant governor candidate Ant Thornton, who said he is "pro-life all the way."

"He's trying to show that he's more moderate in his views but that our current governor is extreme in allowing [abortion] up to and including birth," Thornton said of Ronchetti. "Right now, the argument from the left is that we're the extremists because we believe in pro-life, and I think the true argument is they're the extremists because they believe in abortion up to birth."

Asked in a recent CNN interview whether New Mexico had any restrictions on abortion, which polling shows most Americans support, Lujan Grisham said it doesn't.

"There are no restrictions given that we interpret and I agree that ... this is a privacy right and a personal decision between a woman and her doctor and to interfere in any of these medical decisions creates — and it has — unknown, untold reductions in civil liberties for any number of individuals, including women's access to contraceptives," Lujan Grisham told CNN's Jake Tapper.

The Republican Party of New Mexico declined to comment about whether the abortion ruling might energize Democratic voters. The party also declined to answer a number of other questions, including whether it agreed with Ronchetti's stance on abortion in New Mexico.

"We support all of our Republican nominees," spokesman Mike Curtis said.

Political strategies

Albuquerque-based pollster Brian Sanderoff said he believes the Democratic Party will try to use the Supreme Court decision as a rallying point for targeted voters.

"The polls have shown that young people are more likely to be opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade, and they also tend to be the group least likely to vote ... so that would be an example of a targeted group that perhaps the Democratic candidates could try to motivate to vote," he said.

The question, he said, will be turnout.

"Can they inspire people who are angry who otherwise would not have [chosen] to vote?" he asked, adding Democrats will certainly try.

"It's a little trickier in the sense that there are rural Democratic voters, particularly in the north, who are pro-life," Sanderoff said. "They're not the majority when it comes to Democrats, but there are some, so the Democrats need to be careful in their targeting."

Sanderoff said he, too, had noticed the series of pro-abortion rights tweets from Lujan Grisham's campaign account.

"I suspect it will continue," he said. "I think that they're going to try to use it to motivate those voters who oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade. It seems pretty clear that she's doing that, issuing executive orders very soon thereafter the announcement of that Supreme Court decision, so it's clearly part of their strategy."

Lujan Grisham doubled down on her stance on abortion last week, issuing an executive order that increases protections for abortion-seekers and providers in New Mexico.

While touting her support of abortion rights is part of Lujan Grisham's strategy, Sanderoff said Ronchetti's more moderate stance on abortion since the primary is an example of a candidate moving "towards the center" heading into a general election.

"Now we're seeing Ronchetti move to the center and coming out and saying ... he supports abortion up to 15 weeks," Sanderoff said. "That's obviously not a pro-life position, but it's a movement toward the center."

Corcoran, the state Democratic Party spokeswoman, said Ronchetti recognizes most New Mexicans support abortion rights.

"He is trying to position his proposed abortion ban as a moderate position, which is demonstrably false," she said. "This is an example of behavior we've seen from the Republican nominee before, where he modifies his true position."

But Sanderoff said Ronchetti's stance prevents Lujan Grisham from criticizing him as a Republican who opposes abortion altogether.

"Mr. Ronchetti is not taking a firm pro-life stance on abortion, which makes it more difficult for Lujan Grisham to criticize him for being conservative on the abortion issue," he said. "Fifteen weeks is pretty far along, right? She might still use it, but it sounds like she'd be more effective criticizing the Roe v. Wade decision ... if Ronchetti is coming out now saying he supports abortion up to 15 weeks. That's not a pro-life stance, so that makes it more difficult for the Lujan Grisham campaign to tag him for taking a right-wing position on abortion."

Still, the Lujan Grisham campaign continues to target Ronchetti on the issue.

"My Republican opponent is threatening to end our progress and take away a woman's right to make decisions about their body," Lujan Grisham's campaign tweeted as part of a fundraising pitch Friday. "We can't go backwards."

Kendall Witmer, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham's reelection campaign, asserted "Governor Lujan Grisham's record is clear — she will always defend New Mexicans' right to their own reproductive health care decisions, with their families and their doctor. But while Governor Lujan Grisham is championing women's access to abortion, Mark Ronchetti believes women should be punished for seeking safe, legal health care procedures and wants to replicate Mississippi's abortion ban right here in New Mexico."

It's the economy, stupid

Despite all the talk about the end of Roe v. Wade, Will Reinert, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, said abortion won't be the overriding issue for state voters.

"The gubernatorial race will not be decided on abortion no matter how hard Michelle Lujan Grisham tries to convince herself it will," he said.

"The persuadable voters that will determine the state's next governor are deeply concerned by the damage being done to their financial security and personal safety by Democrats and the endless number of personal and professional scandals under Lujan Grisham," he added.

Alexis Martinez Johnson, the Republican nominee for the 3rd Congressional District, agreed abortion won't be the most pressing issue come November.

"Your everyday New Mexican that's a Democrat, independent or Republican or Libertarian or whatever they are, they are most concerned with just being able to get gas, being able to go to work, being able to buy your basic commodities," she said. "People are going to be voting on just sustaining themselves."

But abortion and the Supreme Court's ruling are likely to be a factor in who shows up at the polls. Recent national polling suggests 78 percent of Democrats are more energized to vote following the decision, 24 percent higher than Republicans.

"I think this will be consistent with what we see here in New Mexico," Gabriel Sanchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, wrote in an email. "The impact of this rise in enthusiasm will be if Democratic candidates capitalize on this and Governor Lujan Grisham appears to be poised to do so."

Sanchez said he, too, expects Lujan Grisham to continue to stress New Mexico's leadership in providing access to reproductive health through the election.

"I think this is wise, as Ronchetti will attempt to mobilize his base by attacking Lujan Grisham for her stance on abortion, so she should own that record," he said.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.