Abortion politics propelled the Democrats to a sweeping victory in last week’s elections. The party kept the governorship in the profoundly red state of Kentucky, took full control of the Virginia legislature, grew their majorities in both chambers in New Jersey, won a state Supreme Court seat in Pennsylvania, and added the right to abortion into the Ohio constitution.
The post-Roe backlash has continued to produce victories for Democrats since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion and reverted the matter to the states in June last year.
Republicans need to focus on other issues, said Robert Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University.
In his view, 2024 will be a whole new ball game, and Republicans can win by focusing on issues such as reducing crime and securing the southern border.
George Allen, former Republican Virginia governor, said Republicans should message the abortion issue as a matter for the states.
“It’s a local state issue; it’s not an issue for the federal government to get involved in,” Mr. Allen told The Epoch Times. “Say this endlessly, endlessly, endlessly.”
Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has refused to endorse a federal abortion policy.
He has expressed at campaign events in deeply conservative Iowa how Democrats are turning voters off Republicans who take too hard a line on abortion while saying he believes that people should “follow their heart” when it comes to abortion policy and work to speak more clearly about the issue.
“Without the exceptions, it is very difficult to win elections,” President Trump said. “We would probably lose majorities [in Congress] in 2024 without the exceptions, and perhaps the presidency itself.”
Mr. Allen acknowledges that it’s hard to get all Republicans to take the same stance. For example, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) has introduced a bill for a federal 15-week limit on abortion with the exception of rape, incest, and risk to the life of the mother.
Mr. Allen believes the best Republican presidential candidate on the issue is former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley because she is “honest, pragmatic, practical.”
At the third Republican presidential candidate debate held the day after the election, Ms. Haley repeated that she’s “unapologetically pro-life” and continued calling for “consensus” on abortion policies while acknowledging the deeply personal nature of the issue.
“Let’s agree on how we can ban late-term abortions,” she said. “Let’s make sure we encourage adoptions and good quality adoptions.”
Mr. Allen said that the abortion issue might pose a challenge to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis because of a new law passed in his state this year, limiting abortion up to six weeks gestation. However, Mr. DeSantis could say that the law represents the will of the voters in Florida and could keep the issue on the state level, according to Mr. Allen.
At the Nov. 8 debate, Mr. DeSantis said pro-life groups were “caught flat-footed on these referenda,” whether it was on the ballot as with Ohio or by proxy in Kentucky, Virginia, and other states.
He suggested their messaging needs to appeal to Republicans who are turning out to vote.
“A lot of the people who are voting for the referenda are Republicans who would vote for a Republican candidate,” he added. “So you’ve got to understand how to do that.”
Eighteen percent of Ohio Republicans voted to include abortion rights in the state’s constitution.
Voter turnout in the Buckeye State was unusually high for an off-year election. With the abortion issue on the ballot, 3.9 million Ohioans voted, nearly matching the 2022 midterms’ voter participation level of 4.2 million.
Off-year elections—elections held in odd-number years—“do not necessarily predict the following year,” according to an analysis by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
The authors argue that while the state races generated favorable results for the Democrats, that didn’t change those states’ trajectory in partisan races, which will define 2024 more.
For the Commonwealth of Virginia, the authors treated Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s victory in 2021, another off-year election, as an exception in the blue-leaning territory that had voted for only one Republican governor in the two decades prior.
Turnout and Support
In Mr. Shapiro’s view, to win the 2024 presidential election, Democrats must excite and turn out their votes like in 2020 and 2022. However, “the enthusiasm at this point seems to be more on the Republican side with Trump supporters and voters voting against the Democrats [rather] than with excitement in the Democratic base,” he said.
Bob Holsworth, a Richmond-based veteran political analyst, said the Republicans hadn’t arrived at one blockbuster issue yet to win the 2024 elections.
However, he said Bidenomics wouldn’t help keep President Biden in the White House. His read is that even though inflation has shown signs of cooling, the impact has been felt by both sides and has turned off some voters in the Democratic base.
Whether they can be convinced in 2024 remains to be seen. “I think the Democrats are making a big mistake by not challenging Biden,” he told The Epoch Times.
Recent poll numbers show that Republicans are more motivated to vote as a way of vouching their support for Donald Trump, former president and presumptive Republican nominee, rather than fending off President Joe Biden.
In a Nov. 1 Quinnipiac University poll, among 1,610 self-identified registered voters, 58 percent of Republicans said they were more motivated to vote in 2024 than previous presidential elections, compared to 47 percent of Democrats.
And more Biden votes are a disapproval of President Trump than a nod for President Biden.
In a September NBC poll, a majority, or 58 percent, of Biden voters said they would vote for President Biden due to their dislike of President Trump. By contrast, a similar share of the Trump voters said they would do so because they support President Trump.
Jim Gilmore, former Republican Virginia governor and former ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the left wing in the United States doesn’t understand conservatives’ unwavering support for President Trump.
In Mr. Gilmore’s view, conservatives “feel under threat, under assault” when they see rampant crime and the insecure southern border, and the sweeping Democratic win over the abortion issue heightens that sense.
“Here’s the bottom line: the Republicans and the conservatives in this country are looking for someone to fight for them,” he told The Epoch Times.
“And I think they’ve decided that that person is Donald Trump.”
Economy, Foreign Policy, and the Border
In a widely discussed survey, a New York Times/Siena poll published days before the 2023 Election Day found President Biden trailing President Trump in five of six swing states and a general decline in the Democrats’ minority base.
According to the poll, President Trump’s lead over President Biden is based on the top issues of the economy, foreign policy, and immigration.
A majority of those polled voters—600 in each state of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—said President Biden’s policies made their lives worse.
A key plank in President Biden’s reelection campaign is his touting of “Bidenomics”: economic measures centered around public investments and industrial policies that the administration says will lift the middle class and address cost of living problems.
Foreign policy has also come into sharper focus for voters.
“You have this major disruption that’s occurring in political life because of what’s happened in Gaza and Israel at the moment, and voters tend to blame the incumbent party for disruption,” Mr. Shapiro said, adding that Democrats and Republicans have similar stances on the Israel–Hamas war, but the position is much less welcomed by members of the Democrat base who are pro-Palestinian.
To Mr. Gilmore, Democrats work with elites to run foreign policy at the expense of rallying the public. Republicans, on the other hand, will communicate with the American people and get their support.
He also challenged the notion that, if reelected, President Trump would carry out foreign policy by isolating America.
He thinks the former president is more flexible on this front than how he’s stereotyped, and he’s prepared to give President Trump “the benefit of the doubt on his foreign policy.”
“I’m fond of saying that in presidential politics, foreign policy is never the issue until it is. And right now, it is,” Mr. Gilmore said. “And that is because we are seeing a dramatic upheaval worldwide. The authoritarians of the world are on the march.”
Of the top three issues—economy, foreign policy, and border—the latter is President Biden’s Achilles’ heel.
While he enjoys overwhelming support from Democrats on the first two issues, he has just 56 percent of Democrats’ support regarding the situation at the U.S.–Mexico border, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
The same poll shows that independents disapprove of President Biden on all three issues, with the border at the top at 71 percent.
In the latest election, the border issue flipped Long Island’s Suffolk County executive office in New York state to red for the first time in two decades.
A majority, 84 percent, of the voters in New York consider the influx of illegal immigrants a serious issue, according to a Siena College poll. In recent months, several blue states have turned on President Biden over the border crisis as cities struggle to deal with the surge of illegal immigrants and their enormous strain on government resources.
It’s unclear whether independent or third-party candidates will take more votes away from President Biden or President Trump, but these votes will likely make a difference in a tight race.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an independent presidential candidate, would receive 24 percent of the vote in a three-way race in six battleground states, according to the New York Times/Siena poll. President Trump would get 35 percent and President Biden 33 percent. The balance said they remained undecided or wouldn’t vote.
Jill Stein, who’s running for the Green Party nomination for 2024, won about 1 percent nationwide in the 2016 presidential election. She garnered more votes in three competitive states—Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—than Mr. Tump’s winning margins there.
The last time an independent candidate made big strides was in 1992 when the populist independent candidate Ross Perot won nearly 20 percent of votes nationwide.
Of course, 2024 is more than the race for the White House.
Republican defeats in the 2023 elections showcase some long-existing problems within the GOP operations, according to Ron Wright, co-founder of the Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition.
After Republicans lost the Virginia legislature, many blamed Mr. Youngkin’s push for a 15-week abortion limit. His Spirit of Virginia PAC poured $1.4 million into TV ads featuring the policy in late September. But Mr. Wright said Mr. Youngkin shouldn’t take all the blame.
“Unfortunately, this goes back years. I think the party’s just been failing to see what’s changing in the world,” Mr. Wright told The Epoch Times. “Issues change, but if you don’t go in and recruit candidates from all segments of society, you’re going to continue to shrink, shrink, and shrink.”
He said the GOP needs to attract more diverse and younger activists.
“A 25-year-old will go out there and knock on doors all day compared to a 65-year-old,” he said. “We’ve got too many that think that sitting behind their computer commenting on Facebook or Twitter, or whatever you want to call it, is some kind of advantage to the party. It’s not. That doesn’t do anything.”
The GOP, he said, also faces a bench strength issue with Republicans not working their way up anymore, at least not in northern Virginia. “Why run for school board when I can run for Congress?” Mr. Wright said is a prevailing attitude.
Meanwhile, Democrats have continued feeding the pipeline with experienced candidates who have built community relationships, he said.