Some Republicans try to shift positions on abortion as general election approaches
Those trends have put Republicans from Michigan to Iowa to Arizona on the defensive, forcing those in competitive races who have taken rigid stances against abortion rights to soften them or risk drawing the ire of a motivated segment of the electorate.
He is far from alone, however.
“We regularly update the website,” said the Barrett spokesperson.
Lydia Hall, a spokesperson for Nunn’s campaign, responded to questions about the shift by turning the focus on Axne, saying her abortion rights views are “well outside the mainstream in Iowa” and accusing her of “trying to hide her position from voters.” Axne told CNN in a statement that she believes “the only people who should be involved in women’s health care decisions are women, their families, and their doctors. Not the government.”
Jensen, who is a doctor, has said his previous comments about abortion were “clumsy,” and a spokesperson for the campaign told CNN that the candidate wanted to clarify his position because people “were repeating what we considered to be an inarticulation of the position.”
A potential change in the winds for Democrats
The abortion debate has shaken up a midterm cycle that, for months, looked like doom for Democrats. While anti-abortion organizations continue to urge Republicans to go on offense on the issue, Democrats have been invigorated by the wins in Kansas and New York, using them as proof points that running a race with abortion as a focal point can be a recipe for success, even at a time when polls show voters skeptical of the party’s leadership in Washington. A series of national polls that found the June Supreme Court decision broadly unpopular has backed up Democrats confidence in running on the issue.
So with only a few months before the November election, Democrats are eager to point out the Republican softening, believing, as operative Christina Reynolds put it, the party is “trying to mislead voters and hide their deeply unpopular positions on abortion rights.”
“They know that voters are willing to hold responsible the people who take away their rights and they are concerned about their elections,” said Reynolds, a top operative at Emily’s List, a Democratic organization that works to elect women who support abortion rights. “We believe voters have a clear understanding for who has stood with them and who opposes our reproductive rights.”
Democrats have also put significant money behind ads on abortions. According to AdImpact data, Democratic campaigns and groups have spent roughly $57 million on ads mentioning abortion, a significant portion of the $73 million spent on all political ads mentioning the issue.
Anti-abortion rights groups are eager for their candidates to not only hold the line, but go on offense on the issue, tying their Democratic opponents to what they view as extreme pro-abortion rights views.
“Our position hasn’t changed and how we are advising candidates after Kansas remains the same and that is: You have to go on offense and define your opponent’s positions rather than let them define you,” said Mallory Carroll, spokeswoman for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “The best defense is a good offense.”
Asked why she believes some Republican candidates are softening their positions, Carroll blamed other Republican operatives: “There are always going to be a class of political consultant that are not true believers on this issue, that advise candidates not to go on offense, to cross their fingers and hope that this issue doesn’t come up. That is not only morally wrong, it is politically stupid.”
But candidates in races across the country, including in some of the most competitive races, have shifted some of their rhetoric.
Adkins campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
“As a County Commissioner, I voted to ban the Plan B abortion bill, and have been a proud and consistent supporter of the Personhood movement, unambiguously defending life from conception,” she said.
Attempts to appeal to a more moderate general election audience are difficult on an issue like abortion because of how contentious the fight over it has been and how front-of-mind it is after the Supreme Court decision.
“It’s not unusual for candidates to pivot more toward the center from a primary to a general election strategy,” said John Thomas, a national Republican strategist. “The second you win that primary, you have to change the electorate that you’re speaking to, which is more of those classic swing voters.”
He added: “The challenge is on some of these very hot issues … the other campaign keeps receipts.”