Entrepreneur Juan Pablo Segura looked like the perfect Republican candidate to win the newly-created Virginia State Senate District 31 that includes much of Loudoun County, home of the parents’ rights movement that gained national attention.
But when the votes were counted in the 2023 race that was among the most expensive campaigns ever in Virginia, more than 52 percent of the ballots went to his Democrat opponent, in a loss that shocked more than a few Republicans who thought it was their year.
Democrats’ warnings of Republican threats to abortion access were the factor that produced the Virginia surprise that could be repeated nationwide in 2024, according to Democratic strategists.
But a Republican campaign pollster sees a huge shift among a key voter group concerning the millions of illegal immigrants that have crossed into the United States since 2021 under President Joe Biden’s open border policies.
That shift could counterbalance the abortion issue.
Led by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Virginia Republicans had high hopes of gaining a state senate majority to match their control of the state house. Instead, not only did they fail to take over the senate, they also lost their majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.
One GOP political expert who was not surprised by the Virginia outcome was Mitchell Brown, political strategy director for Cygnal, a Washington-based polling and analytics firm. He sees a lesson in the Segura loss for Republicans in the 2024 campaign.
“The issue with it is we have to remember that people aren’t voting with their minds, it’s an emotive response to things, so when you’re asked what issue is top-of-the-mind, abortion doesn’t come up among the things we’re seeing nationally on sentiments,” Mr. Brown told The Epoch Times.
“But if you come up to the Mainline in Philadelphia or Northern Virginia’s suburbs or out in Michigan and scream about how someone is a MAGA extremist who wants to put women in prison for getting abortions, that issue is going to be very powerful for Democrats,” Mr. Brown said.
“I live in Northern Virginia in one of the swing districts, right on the edge of Fairfax County and into Loudoun County. Segura never said anything about abortion, but every Sunday when I was watching football, I kept hearing the refrain saying ‘Juan Pablo Segura is the MAGA extremist. He and his friends want to put women in jail for getting abortions,’” Mr. Brown said.
“Those ads were powerful, they got your attention and there is no way to differentiate it when every single Republican was getting hit like that, so it was tough,” he said.
The Virginia outcome was not the only result in 2023 that convinced Democrats that abortion is their best issue for 2024.
Ohio is a solidly red-trending state that gave former President Donald Trump more than 53 percent of its votes against President Joe Biden in 2020.
But in a widely publicized citizen ballot initiative battle in 2023, Ohio voters decisively favored an amendment to the state constitution that guarantees the right to abortion. The amendment provides that, “Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions … on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.”
The results made Ohio the 13th state to strengthen access to abortions, either through state legislative action or a ballot initiative, since the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision that nullified the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
Under Dobbs, each state is re-empowered to decide the abortion issue for its residents. Currently, 21 states either ban abortions outright, with certain exceptions, or permit the procedure up to a specified timeframe in a woman’s pregnancy. In Oklahoma, for example, the procedure is illegal in almost all circumstances, whereas in Utah abortion is allowed anytime up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.
By putting the issue front and center at the state level, the Supreme Court provided a powerful impetus on an issue that Democrats are now rapidly moving to make the centerpiece of their candidates’ campaigns across the country.
On Jan. 25, the White House Facebook page featured a video of Vice President Kamala Harris, who is described by officials as the lead voice on the issue, extolling “reproductive freedom.”
On Jan. 23, President Biden, Ms. Harris, and their spouses were featured speakers at the “Reproductive Freedom Campaign Rally” at George Mason University in Virginia. Abortion will likely be featured prominently in Mr. Biden’s re-election campaign and those of virtually every other Democrat on the 2024 ballot.
Democratic campaign strategist Christy Setzer thinks this is a smart strategy.
“For the Biden campaign, elevating abortion rights as a campaign issue is politically smart, a great contrast with Trump and Republican electeds, and the right thing to do,” she told The Epoch Times.
“Since the Dobbs decision, Americans have voted decisively to protect that right, winning not just Democrats, but the lion’s share of independents and even some Republicans. When abortion rights are on the ballot, Democrats over-perform and women come out to vote in greater numbers to protect that right.”
Ms. Setzer emphasized there doesn’t have to be a ballot initiative or other measure explicitly dealing with abortion to motivate Democratic voters to turn out in great numbers.
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