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Is abortion a game changer for Senate Democrats? a test case

When it seemed like a big Republican wave was building, Washington Sen. Patty Murray was among those facing the prospect of being swept away.

At 71, Murray is a far cry from her gutsy 1992 campaign, when the self-described tennis mom took on “the guys in the red ties and dark suits” and scored an upset victory.

Now it’s Republican Tiffany Smiley, 41, a mother of three, who has the fresh face and benefit of being a Beltway outsider.

Smiley’s prodigious fundraising and inspirational story, as a triage nurse and advocate for disabled veterans like her husband, has Republicans hope Washington will elect its first Republican senator since Bill Clinton was in the White House.
That could still happen.

But the June Supreme Court decision that struck down the constitutional right to abortion has given Murray a vital lifeline, as it has given Democrats across the country, increasing his chances of overcoming the hangover incumbents often face in a midterm election when his party occupies the White House.

“It woke up a sleepy Democratic segment of the electorate that wasn’t paying close attention or embracing the ‘red wave’ and feeling like they were going to get squashed,” said Stuart Elway, a nonpartisan pollster in Seattle. “It added a bit of turbo to their campaign.”

It still seems likely that the GOP will take control of the House, as Republicans only need to win five seats held by Democrats. But gains of the order of 35 or more seats, which previously seemed quite plausible, now seem unattainable.

Control of the Senate, 50-50, appears to be a toss-up, which is better than Democrats expected before the high court pushed the abortion issue front and center by returning regulation to individual states. . Since then, nearly half have scaled back or moved to ban the procedure.

Democrats are betting big on the issue.

The party has already spent more than an estimated $124 million this year on TV ads that mention abortion, more than double the next number, the character, and nearly 20 times what Democrats spent on abortion-related advertising. abortion in the 2018 midterm campaign. according to Associated Press.

Spending on abortion-related ads was higher, the AP reported, than the GOP’s combined spending on ads related to the economy, crime and immigration, which the party would prefer to emphasize.

Murray, who is seeking his sixth term, is among those who have most aggressively sought to capitalize on the Supreme Court decision. Abortion has been legal in Washington state since voters approved a ballot measure in 1970, more than two years before Roe v. Wade who legalized abortion across the country.

“It would only take one vote in Congress to make abortion a crime and punish women and doctors across the country, including in Washington,” a female narrator says urgently, and hyperbolically, in one of Murray’s ads. . (Passing a nationwide ban would almost certainly require more than a single vote, even if the Senate remained tied 50-50, given the need for 60 votes to overcome inevitable filibuster.)

“Don’t give them their chance,” the ad concludes. “Oppose Tiffany Smiley Before It’s Too Late”.

The ad is part of a larger effort to paint Smiley, who calls herself “100% pro-life,” as extreme.

Murray also posted a graphic-filled ad from January 6 recounting his terrifying experience on Capitol Hill the day pro-Trump insurgents tried to overturn President Biden’s victory. “Democracy,” Murray says solemnly, “is on the ballot.”

Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley speaks at a GOP primary election day event on August 2 in Issaquah, Washington.

(Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Like many blue-state Republicans, Smiley chose his path carefully during the primary season, trying to avoid the MAGA label without drawing the ire of the Trump faithful. Since he advanced under Washington’s top-two system (he finished second to Murray), Smiley has performed a bit of facelift on his website, removing a section that questioned the integrity of 2020.

But his most direct attempt at hitting the political center came in a television ad in which Smiley looks directly into the camera and declares his opposition to a federal abortion ban. (She has said that she respects the will of Washington voters and the law they enacted decades ago.)

Set amid soothing earth tones, as a guitar strums softly in the background, smiley asks, “What’s extreme? Thirty years in the Senate and nothing to show for it.

“Patty Murray wants to scare you,” he concludes. “I want to serve you.”

In a later ad, Smiley goes after his Democratic rival by conflating the themes of crime and inflation.

“These doors are closed because it’s too dangerous to ask employees to work here,” Smiley says as he stands in front of a closed, graffiti-strewn Starbucks in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. “You can’t even buy a cup of coffee at your hometown store… even if you could still afford it.”

The August primary saw an unusually high turnout of women and young voters, part of a pattern across the country since the Supreme Court handed down its decision on abortion.

Cathy Allen, a Democratic strategist who teaches political science at the University of Washington in Seattle, was struck by the attitude of students who aren’t particularly enamored with either major political party or the dilatory way elected leaders have addressed concerns. like climate change.

The abortion decision angered and energized them: “They have this sense of injustice,” Allen said, encouraging some to vote discouraged or apathetic.

If that kind of passion persists, or fears of inflation and recession override the abortion issue and drag Biden and his fellow Democrats down with it, it will determine not only whether Washington gets a new senator, but which party controls the chamber for the next two years.


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