WASHINGTON ― Republican senators were surprised by Tuesday’s huge win for abortion rights in Kansas, of all places, even as they sought to downplay the electoral implications for their party ahead of November’s midterm elections.
“It’s definitely a wake-up call for us,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) acknowledged on Wednesday.
“Kansas, which is a pretty red state ― it’s hard to find the words. I think people should look at it,” added Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) when asked for his reaction on the vote.
In the first election test after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Kansans rejected an amendment advanced by the right that would have stripped abortion protections from their state constitution — a huge win for abortion rights advocates that will likely set the tone for what’s to come nationally.
Democrats said the vote, which favored protecting abortion rights by nearly 20 percentage points, as well as historic voter turnout in the primary election, sent a loud message to the nation that Americans support abortion rights. They predicted the GOP would come to rue helping overturn Roe at the ballot box.
The vote is likely to make Republicans in swing districts nervous, especially if they’re on the ballot with a similar referendum on abortion, like in California. It’s still unclear, however, whether voters in other states without abortion rights explicitly on the ballot will head to the polls in similar numbers in November.
Republicans argue that concerns over heightened inflation, particularly gas and food prices ― coupled with poor approval ratings for President Joe Biden ― will dwarf the issue of abortion and push them to victory in both the U.S. House and the Senate.
“I think the biggest motivator for voters this time is going to be the economy,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) predicted on Wednesday.
Still, it’s hard to make the case that voters aren’t paying more attention to abortion rights and where their elected leaders stand on the issue after the Kansas blowout.
Even polling from Senate Republicans’ campaign arm has suggested the party’s stance on abortion rights isn’t politically ideal: In May, following the leak of a draft of the Supreme Court decision that ended Roe, the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a polling presentation on how their candidates should discuss abortion issues.
In it, they asked voters to choose between two candidates. The first, a Republican, supports “banning abortions after 15 weeks with exceptions for the life and physical health of the mother or severe fatal abnormality of the baby.” The second, a Democrat, “supports unlimited abortion up until the moment of birth.”
The poll found 53% of voters would choose the Republican, while just 28% would choose the Democrat.
The obvious flaw in the survey? There does not appear to be a single member of the Republican caucus who holds the outlined position. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both support abortion rights and opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which protected abortion after 15 weeks. The other 48 Republican members all support bans well before 15 weeks of pregnancy, if not total bans on the procedure.
The presentation instructed Republicans to be the “compassionate, consensus builders” on abortion.
“I do think it’s always best to be in touch with what your constituents support. Kansas has a 22-week ban [on abortion]. I think it’s a policy that a good number of Republicans seem to think is OK,” Tillis said Wednesday.