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Why the GOP Midterm Red Wave Might Be Fading

Joe Biden. Image Credit: White House.
Image Credit: White House.

With the Labor Day weekend concluded, election season has begun. The Democrat’s once dire prospects for congressional races have improved; the Democrats are surging on the backs of a slew of legislative victories and a backlash from the abortion restricting Dobbs ruling. Further improving the Democrat’s prospects: GOP Senate candidates are faltering – especially amongst women voters.

The problem is significant. “I’m convinced that, based on numbers we have, Republicans have to make some kind of leap on the abortion issue,” Chuck Coughlin, a GOP strategist said. “Because they’re getting killed among women.” 

“Public and internal polling data suggest that the GOP’s struggle to attract women voters may turn out to be the biggest obstacle standing between the party and a potential Senate majority in 2023,” Natalie  Allison reported for POLITICO.

“Republicans this election cycle thought they had finally achieved a breakthrough with suburban women after years of losing support,” Allison reported. “Now, as the primary season has all but ended, the GOP is back where it once was: Appealing directly to skeptical female voters, the women whose support will make or break the party’s drive to retake the Senate majority.”

“Our problem is particularly white middle-aged women,” a GOP strategist told POLITICO. “We need to soften our guys.”

The main problem eroding GOP support amongst women is abortion. As the GOP is finding, retrospectively, maintaining access to legal abortions is overwhelmingly popular amongst women voters. Now, the party that has spent a generation working to restrict abortion access, the party that has finally had a breakthrough with the conservative-majority Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling, is realizing that its anti-abortion advocacy is politically hazardous. A Wall Street Journal poll found that the Dobbs ruling has made people both more likely to vote and more likely to vote Democrat. 

“One after the other, Republican nominees in top Senate battlegrounds have softened, backpedaled, and sought to clarify their abortion positions after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade,” Allison reported.

“A number of Republicans are trying to avoid political fallout from the Dobbs decision by quietly deemphasizing their past position on abortion on campaign websites and on the trail,” Zach Montellaro and Ally Mutnick reported for POLITICO. “Another handful of GOP candidates – especially those in contests in states that are more of a reach for the party – have gone up with TV ads looking to counter Democrats’ attacks on abortions.” 

Emblematic of the GOP softening on abortion is New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti’s new TV ad. “I’m personally pro-life, but I believe we can all come together on a policy that reflects our shared values,” Ronchetti said. “We can end late-term abortion, while protecting access to contraception and health care.” This sort of statement is a departure from the fire and brimstone type condemnation of abortion the GOP has spent years spouting. 

Republicans are also employing a more subtle, more creative tactic to appeal to women voters; Republican candidates have begun featuring their wives in television ads and on the trail. The tactic is being used all over the map. In Ohio “J.D. Vance’s wife, Usha, sat at a kitchen table talking about Vance’s hardships as a child and being raised by his grandmother”; in Arizona, “Catherine Masters sat in the couple’s home and discussed her husband’s [Blake Masters’] motivation to run for Senate, a video interspersed with footage of their three young boys”; in Colorado, “Celeste O’Dea, the wife of Colorado GOP Senate nominee Joe O’Dea, was the latest spouse to be featured in the series of Republican ads. The spot launched just days after O’Dea’s campaign released a digital video featuring his adult daughter discussing her father’s support for ‘abortion rights,’ access to contraception and same-sex marriage”; in Nevada, “Adam Laxalt’s wife, Jaime, sat next to him on a sofa as they talked about his difficult childhood. The ad shows photos of a young Lazalt and his single mother.”

Despite the abortion fallout, the GOP is still expected to win back the House. Winning back the Senate is not out of the question either – although it will depend in part on the public’s receptiveness to the GOP’s new “women-friendly” messaging. 

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.