“The environment is upside down,” said Michael Brodkorb, former vice chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party. “The intensity has reversed.”
It’s not just abortion. Less than 20 years later conservatives used ballot measures against same-sex marriage to boost voter turnout in 11 states, public opinion has shifted so much on the issue that Democrats are poised to force a vote on legislation to protect same-sex marriage in an attempt to hurt Republican candidates. After the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Democrats from Georgia and Wisconsin to Illinois and California are running ads supporting gun restrictions once seen as a liability for the left, all by openly engaging Republicans in crime.
In an ad campaign shared with POLITICO, the center-left group Third Way said the PAC it launched last year to defend moderate Democrats, Shield PAC, will start spending at least $7 million this week. next in digital and mail ads in seven competitive House districts to counter Republican attacks on crime, immigration and other culture war issues.
The ad push follows a poll in Rep. Abigail Spanberger‘s Virginia district that suggested Democrats’ counter-messaging on public safety could dampen the effect of Republican “police defunding” attacks. As a result, as Spanberger airs ads tearing at his Republican opponent on abortion, Shield PAC will launch a digital campaign bolster Spanberger’s credentials on police funding.
“The story is that things that were very dangerous for Democrats – guns and abortion – are now very good for Democrats,” Third Way’s Matt Bennett said. “These kind of cultural issues – [same-sex] marriage, abortion and guns – have shifted. Their political impact [has] reversed.”
Republicans, Bennett said, “are not giving up on the culture wars as a [political] opportunity” before the mid-terms. But he said: “I think we can neutralize these problems if you fix the record.”
That’s a far cry from the GOP’s unique strength: campaigning on God, guns, and gay people. Just a year ago, cultural hotspots in American politics seemed much more GOP-friendly, with Republicans leading a flurry of news cycles on mask mandates, critical race theory, transgender student-athletes and the perceived excesses of social media and big tech. .
Even on abortion, the intensity of voters — if not overall public opinion — appeared as recently as last year to be on the side of Republicans. In Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial race, a majority of voters who ranked abortion as the most important issue facing the state voted for Republican, Glenn Youngkin, according to exit polls.
But just as Democrats saw gun politics begin to change in 2018 — when pro-gun-restriction candidates prevailed in some swing congressional districts — the rejection of an anti-abortion ballot measure in Kansas and the Democratic outperformances in Nebraska special electionsMinnesota and New York this summer revealed the opening for them in deer.
“Democrats are like, ‘Eureka! We’ve got our own successes in the culture war,'” said New York-based Democratic strategist Jon Reinish, a former aide to the senator. Kirsten Gillibrand. This year, he said, could be a turning point “in which the deployment of the culture war works for the first time in favor of the Democrats and not the Republicans.”
“That will say a lot about 2024,” he added. “Democrats are so afraid of their own shadow, naturally. But I think if it works this time, it might give permission to not be afraid.
For Republicans, the toxicity of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade was not singularly in the decision’s unpopularity, but in its undermining of Republican efforts to brand Democrats as extremists. At the root of every non-economic attack Republicans launched on Democrats — from crime to immigration and education — was the idea that the left was out of touch. But deerbacked by a majority of Americans — including critical independents in a midterm election — was a reminder that on one of the most salient issues of the midterms, Democrats were in the mainstream.
On top of that, abortion as a voting issue has erased other cultural concerns, second only to inflation, according to an NPR/PBS NewsTime/Marist survey published Thursday.
Patrick Ruffini, a Republican consultant and pollster who worked for the Republican National Committee and former President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, said that while Republicans still have a winning case on issues such as the school and pandemic-related restrictions, abortion “happens to be the most salient issue right now.
Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster, noted that “cultural issues always benefit Republicans, but Dobbs is a big deal because it really energized women who weren’t particularly politicized before, including young women.
“The best case scenario for Republicans is for this to be a referendum on the Biden administration and Democratic governance, especially inflation, immigration and crime,” he said. “Anything that undermines this referendum undermines the Republican record.”
For Republicans, the result has been a general election reset in which the GOP refocuses squarely on inflation and on Biden, whose low jobs approval ratings remain a drag on the Democratic Party. Republicans are still expected to take the House in November, although likely by narrower margins than expected. But if they win the House, it’s likely to be these kitchen table issues, not the culture wars, that put them above.
This is visible in Colorado and Washington, where Republicans are making incumbents Michael Bennet and Patty Murray the stooges of a Biden administration responsible for inflation and a faltering economy. In Nevada, the Republicans hit the Democratic senator the same way. Catherine Cortez Masto on “the Biden-Masto economy.” They still campaign on crime rates and immigration in certain states. But they say as little as possible about deer.
In Minnesota, Scott Jensen, the Republican candidate for governor, this week posted an ad in which he holds a baby, dismisses abortion as a “divisive” issue and calls on voters to “focus on the issues that matter instead.”
With Democrats “doing better than anyone right now” on cultural issues, said a former Republican congressman familiar with the party’s campaign operation, “it’s going to be back to the economy and the bread and the butter” for the GOP.
“It’s going to be about the economy and people’s opinions on what’s in their best economic interests,” said the former congressman, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “That’s how the Republicans are going to win in the fall, I think.”