GOP Senate Recruits Back The Same Extreme Abortion Positions That Cost The Party In 2022

Republicans have a golden opportunity to win control of the Senate, but they’re already at risk of repeating a major error of their disappointing 2022 cycle.

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans’ number one recruiting target in Montana, a state that will help decide control of the upper chamber next year, has compared abortion to “murdering our unborn children.” The party’s preferred candidates in Nevada and Pennsylvania, swing states that voted for Joe Biden in 2020, have said abortion should be banned without any exceptions for rape or incest.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised not to “screw this up” as Republicans look at a golden opportunity to flip the Senate in 2024, with chances to pick up seven seats in states former President Donald Trump won at least once. But they’re already at risk of repeating one of the major errors of their disappointing 2022 cycle: running candidates with anti-abortion positions unacceptable to swing voters in a post-Dobbs decision world.

The backlash to the highly contentious Supreme Court decision repealing abortion rights shattered Republican hopes of retaking the Senate in the midterms, and Democrats are aiming to keep voters fired up about the issue in order to defend their narrow 51-49 majority. Democratic senators will take to the floor of the chamber this week exactly one year after the fall of Roe v. Wade to push for abortion rights.

Polls have repeatedly shown Republicans losing ground among independents on the abortion issue. The trend has even been confirmed by Republican firms that have conducted research into Senate races this year, according to one memo that inadvertently fell into Democratic hands at a GOP retreat last month.

Abortion rights are sufficiently popular to boost Democratic candidates even in red states. A Public Religion Research Institute survey released earlier this year found a majority of people in all seven Trump-won states that the GOP could target — Arizona, Montana, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — think abortion should be legal in most or all cases. The only state where abortion rights didn’t merit at least 60% support was West Virginia.

In Nevada, another GOP-targeted state where Trump narrowly lost twice, a whopping 80% of the population said abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

But top GOP senators downplayed the idea that the issue of abortion could pose problems as they seek to retake the Senate in 2024.

“There’s a very clear contrast between the Democrats’ extreme position of allowing abortions up to the moment of birth and the Republican position ― where 70% of the American people are ― that we should put limits on late-term abortion, with appropriate exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We just have to take a position here of protecting life and that’s a winning issue for us.”

“If you’re a Republican candidate I think you’re going to have to have a position you’re comfortable explaining,” added Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “You can’t run away from it, you’re going to have to talk about it.”

The NRSC doesn’t officially endorse candidates in primaries, but they’ve taken a more hands-on approach this cycle to wooing and promoting potential nominees to ensure they avoid a 2022 repeat, where several flawed candidates backed by Trump, including celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz and football legend Herschel Walker, advanced to the general election and ended up losing.

In Montana, national Republicans are reportedly close to drafting wealthy businessman Tim Sheehy to take on incumbent Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, in what will likely be one of the most hotly contested elections next year.

The decorated ex-U.S. Navy SEAL, who has the resources to self-fund his campaign, could be a serious challenge for Tester. Sheehy would first have to face a competitive primary against Rep. Matt Rosendale, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus and the Republican who lost to Tester six years ago.

Both potential GOP candidates are staunch abortion opponents. Rosendale has cosponsored legislation banning abortion and birth control, while Sheehy compared abortion to murder when asked about this year’s Supreme Court ruling that maintained government approval of the abortion pill.

“It’s really frustrating how, you know, we have one party in this country that seems to be bent on murdering our unborn children and taking that, taking that tack, you know, in a very militant way,” Sheehy said in an April interview on conservative talk radio show Montana Talks.

In Pennsylvania, hedge fund executive Dave McCormick is reportedly mulling a comeback after losing the 2022 primary to celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz by less than 1,000 votes.

McCormick, the former CEO of the world’s largest hedge fund, has been touted as a moderate, business-friendly Republican — the kind of recruit favored by the NRSC because he can self-fund an expensive campaign to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey.

His views on abortion may repel the same suburban voters who, in theory, might be drawn to his business experience: McCormick has said that life begins at conception and that he does not support exceptions in abortion laws for rape or incest, stances out of step with a state that allows abortion up to 23 weeks of pregnancy.

In many instances, GOP candidates could face attacks over statements they made prior to the Supreme Court’s reversal on abortion rights, when public opinion on the issue shifted leftward.

Sam Brown, an Army veteran who lost the 2022 GOP Senate primary in Nevada to Attorney General Adam Laxalt, for example, said in a questionnaire he would only support Supreme Court nominees “who would understand the importance of protecting life.” Brown is considered a potential 2024 Senate candidate in Nevada.

In Ohio, meanwhile, entrepreneur Bernie Moreno is positioning himself as the Trumpiest candidate in a GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. Moreno has already been endorsed by Sen. J.D. Vance, a staunch Trump ally, a signal that Moreno — whose son-in-law worked in the Trump White House — might win Trump’s endorsement in a state where the former president’s stamp of approval still seems to matter.

Moreno has said he’s “100% pro-life with no exceptions.”

“Conservative Republicans should never back down from their belief that life begins at conception and that abortion is the murder of an innocent baby,” Moreno tweeted last year.

Moreno is not out of step with Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly, which, after several failed attempts, passed a six-week abortion ban in 2019. Matt Dolan, a state senator and declared 2024 candidate who has spoken out against Trump, has supported anti-abortion measures in the legislature, as had possible Senate candidate and Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Republicans’ best chance of flipping a seat is in West Virginia, where Trump remains overwhelmingly popular. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is likely to face Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican-turned-Democrat, who announced his candidacy in April and has led in early polling of a hypothetical matchup against Manchin — who has not yet announced whether he will run for reelection.

Last year, Justice moved quickly to sign a near-total ban on abortion in his state, the second state to do so after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. The law contained few exceptions: Rape and incest victims are able to obtain abortions at up to eight weeks of pregnancy, but only if they report to law enforcement first.

In Arizona, everyone is waiting to see whether prominent election denier and former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake will jump into the race for Senate. The former news anchor praised Arizona’s total ban on abortion and has called abortion “the ultimate sin.”

Key to Democratic messaging on the issue will be the threat of a national abortion ban, which is deeply unpopular in public opinion surveys. McConnell left the door open to such a ban last year, something featured in scores of Democratic ads on the issue. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) later proposed legislation banning abortion nationally after 15 weeks, only adding fuel to the fire.

“Republican Senate candidates want to make abortion a crime without exception and rip away women’s right to make their own health care decisions, and in 2024 voters will hold them accountable by rejecting them and their toxic agenda,” said Nora Keefe, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Actually passing a national abortion ban might be tough: Democrats would be able to filibuster such a bill, and two Senate Republicans ― Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski ― support abortion rights. But that’s not stopping Democratic incumbents up for reelection next year from playing up the possibility of a ban anyway.

“Republicans or any of my potential challengers, I can tell you, the first thing they would do is enact a nationwide abortion ban,” Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) told HuffPost. “They’ve all said it. I’m going to do everything I can to protect women and their families to make their own health care choices.”

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