Expect abortion to remain a campaign issue, consultants say

By: - July 1, 2022 4:21 pm
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Campaign consultants expect abortion to continue to be a primary issue in upcoming election campaigns (Hill Street Studios/Getty Images)

Voters in Louisiana are used to the tell-tale signs of a contentious election showing up in their mailbox: a report card deeming candidate A more “pro-life,” a derragtory post card declaring candidate B as bad as a liberal. 

For almost 50 years, Republicans have campaigned on anti-abortion messages. The foe of Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to an abortion, has been a compelling force to drive conservatives to the polls. 

While Democrats were far from overwhelmingly in favor of abortion rights at the time Roe v. Wade was decided, the stance became a staple of Democratic campaigns as time went on. In 2022, anti-abortion Democrats, such as Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, are the exception rather than the rule. 

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse its ruling on Roe v. Wade, there have been many calls for voters to show up to the polls. But what is the messaging going to be to get them there? 

Not going away

Republican consultants agree that the messaging around aboriton will change. After all, you can’t call for overturning something that’s already been overturned. But they don’t intend to leave the topic behind. 

Lionel Rainey, Founder of LR3 Consulting, which boasts U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, as clients, said abortion accounts for the easiest talking points for Republican candidates. 

“They’re asked a question, and it says, ‘Where do you stand on this?’ The answer is as simple as ‘I’m 100% pro-life,’” Rainey said. 

That being said, Rainey acknowledged that the amount of time and effort dedicated to anti-abortion messages through TV commercials and in mail pieces might be reduced. 

Ryan Cross, a longtime Republican consultant and current healthcare lobbyist, generally agreed with Rainey’s assessment, but pointed out that abortion is no longer a theoretical campaign issue. 

“For decades now if you’re a local legislator saying you’re pro life, you say that on the stump. But then when you show up to work, you’re voting on issues, but those issues are superseded by a court case,” Cross said. 

Now that Roe is overturned, legislators have real power to impact abortion, which will galvanize Republican voters, Cross added. 

‘We need to hold the line’

Louisiana has strict abortion laws that outlaw abortion except to save the life of the pregnant person or when a fetus has a condition incompatible with life outside the womb. Cross said Democrats will push to change these laws, meaning that Republicans have to remain vigilant. 

“The Democratic sides are trying to chip away at what is in statute today. On the Republican side, they’re gonna be trying to protect it,” Cross said. “We need to hold the line.” 

Cross said that while holding the line is not as exciting a goal as overturning Roe, it will still compel anti-abortion voters to get out to the polls. 

Stephen Handwerk, a consultant who works with the Association of States Democratic Committees, strongly disagreed with Cross’ assessment. 

“I don’t believe that (anti-abortion voters are) going to be motivated to come out,” Handwerk said. “I don’t believe that we’re going to see that sort of outpouring.” 

Handwerk pointed to this week’s special election in Nebraska’s First Congressional District, where GOP candidate Mike Flood beat Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks on a 53%-47% margin, significantly closer than Republican victories in past cycles 

Handwerk argued that with Republicans happy with their victory at the Supreme Court and Democrats angry over the loss of abortion access, Democrats will have the edge in elections. 

Moderates in trouble 

While Rainey said anti-abortion talking points aren’t going away for most Republicans, he speculated that GOP candidates in moderate districts might use the decision to overturn Roe as a reason not to campaign on abortion. 

Handwerk went further than that, saying that Republicans in moderate districts need to reverse course on abortion rights. 

“I think a lot of incumbents are going to have a lot of uncomfortable questions that their voters are going to be asking them to account for,” Handwerk said. “They’re going to have to do some explaining.” 

Handwerk advised those Republicans to apologize and work to change things. 

“Those that have taken the hard stances, I truly believe that they’re going to have a difficult way of going next year when they have to face the electorate again,” Handwerk said. 

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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.

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