Sen. Bernie Sanders insists Democrats can’t win on abortion in November. Senate-hopeful Mandela Barnes insists Democrats can’t win without it.
Most political analysts and strategists on both sides of the aisle admit- some enthusiastically, others grudgingly- the strong possibility Republicans will control the House of Representatives after the midterm election.
When it comes to the Senate there is a good deal more disagreement. Some predict Democrats will hold on to the Senate; but barely, maintaining the 50/50 split which is the current status quo, with Vice President Kamala Harris still holding the tie-breaking vote.
“The path to the Senate runs through Georgia,” some pundits maintain. Others are closely watching wild-card races in swing states. Still others are nervously eyeing unusual gains for Republican candidates in unexpected places like Oregon, New York, and Nevada.
In Wisconsin, the bitter Senate race between Republican incumbent Ron Johnson and Democratic Party challenger Mandela Barnes is waxing especially hot.
After an early lead in the polls, Barnes has consistently trailed Johnson, whose campaign has been gaining momentum in recent weeks as inflation continues to squeeze the paychecks and pocketbooks of Wisconsinites.
In plenty of tight races, Democrats are putting a great deal of faith in the abortion issue to counter-balance any irritation voters may be feeling at the rate of inflation and the price of fuel. Wisconsin is no exception.
“Barnes bets on abortion to boost flagging polls,” reported POLITICO yesterday: “The Democratic candidate for Senate in Wisconsin is struggling to regain momentum against incumbent Ron Johnson.”
“A woman’s freedom to choose is absolutely on the ballot this year and this goes beyond party lines,” Senate-candidate Mandela Barnes said in a statement to POLITICO. “Everywhere we go, I hear from Republicans and independents who are horrified by Johnson’s dangerous anti-choice record and motivated to get out and vote this year to protect women’s rights.”
“The Wisconsin Senate race is shaping up to be one of the most high-profile tests of whether voter anger over the end of abortion rights can propel a Democrat to victory in a major battleground state where the procedure is now restricted- or if the summertime boost to Democrats following Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was merely a sugar high,” wrote Holly Otterbein and Shia Kapos for POLITICO.
Mandela Barnes, and POLITICO, aren’t the only ones putting a great deal of faith in abortion access this election season.
“Can Democrats win tight midterm races with a pro-choice message? Pat Ryan says yes,” wrote Poppy Noor for The Guardian today.
“All we have to do is show Americans that we understand how existential this fight is,” Democrat Pat Ryan said of his successful efforts to win in a hotly-contested special election in New York. “The fight for reproductive freedom; for voting rights; the fight against gun violence; the fight for our democracy. We need to draw attention to how un-American it is to take away these freedoms.”
Still, not everyone in the Democratic Party is convinced.
“Polls show inflation is a top concern among voters, especially for blue-collar voters of all races, which Wisconsin has a lot of,” Wisconsin Democratic Party consultant Irene Lin told POLITICO. “We can’t just rely on abortion as a message while so many are struggling to pay their bills.”
“The Economy is Struggling, and Democratic Constituents Are Suffering Most,” wrote Jim Nelles for Newsweek yesterday.
Higher mortgage rate and rents, food insecurity, overdue bills, higher heating costs this winter, maxed out credit cards, businesses hurt by over two years of pandemic mitigation measures: The working class is struggling, far more today than they were in 2020.
Many are facing dire financial woes greater than any they’ve previously experienced in their lives.
“Democrats shouldn’t focus only on abortion in the midterms; that’s a mistake,” wrote Senator Bernie Sanders in an op-ed for The Guardian this week.
After dutifully establishing his bona fides of a, “lifetime 100% pro-choice voting record,” and calling the Republican position against abortion “extremist” and a serious political liability, Sanders broke the bad news.
“But, as we enter the final weeks of the 2022 midterm elections, I am alarmed to hear the advice that many Democratic candidates are getting from establishment consultants and directors of well-funded Super Pacs that the closing argument of Democrats should focus only on abortion.”
The strategy, which Sanders derided as, “Cut the 30-second abortion ads and coast to victory,” amounted to “political malpractice” which would “ignore the state of the economy and allow Republican lies and distortions to go unanswered.”
“I believe that if Democrats do not fight back on economic issues and present and strong pro-worker agenda, they could well be in the minority in both the House and the Senate next year.”
“You can’t win elections unless you have the support of the working class of this country,” Sanders warned. “But you’re not going to have that support unless you make it clear that you’re prepared to take on powerful special interests- and fight for the millions of Americans who are struggling economically.”
Sen. Sanders, long a champion of the working class, may have a point about economic issues being top of mind for voters this election season.
The Dobbs decision happened months ago now. Higher prices from the grocery store to the pump are something struggling working-class voters are being forced to confront day after day, with no end in sight and every indication things are likely to get much worse.
As the months have passed, it may have begun to dawn on a number of independent voters that the Dobbs decision didn’t change much where they live.
In places where abortions were difficult to obtain before, they are still difficult to obtain. In places where abortion access was plentiful, it is still so.
In a way, abortion restrictions have come to be regarded a bit like drug laws or immigration laws.
For comparison: Whatever the federal government says about the matter- and the federal government usually has a great deal to say about matters- some states have elected to go their own way with regard to drug policy.
The result has been an odd national patchwork where some states have relaxed drug laws and others still have major restrictions. This shouldn’t be a surprise; the United States still has dry counties where alcoholic beverages can’t be sold by law, relics from a bygone age of prohibition.
But the juxtaposition between state and federal laws has created an untold number of complications in the legal system. Under the patchwork created by federal and state laws in opposition to each other, someone running a legal cannabis business in Colorado is simultaneously breaking and obeying the law at the same time.
Not being considered legitimate businesses by the federal government, someone operating a state-legal growing operation in Colorado can’t even get banking services.
The whole situation massively undermines public faith in the U.S. legal system. It creates an environment where some laws are meant to be obeyed and others can be safely ignored.
The answer, of course, is to bring state and federal drug laws into compliance with one another. Rescinding state laws relaxing rules on marijuana would require armed federal agents to seize the state-legal property of American citizens. The legal firestorm which would ensue would keep the Supreme Court busy for a decade.
Since that scenario is obviously out of the question, on the subject of drug laws, it would make more sense- especially from a constitutional law standpoint- to allow the states to decide.
Rights not explicitly granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution are generally reserved for the states anyway.
Drugs are a contentious social issue. In the minds of many religious conservatives, no amount of tax revenue could offset the social decay caused by increased rates of drug addiction and overdose deaths. In the minds of progressives, jailing drug users is a crime against humanity.
Looking at places like Seattle and San Francisco- where the decriminalization of drugs has led to an explosion of crime, homelessness and untreated mental illness- and the over-crowded U.S. prison system, courtesy of the failed war on drugs, both groups may have a point.
Deciding who is morally right isn’t in the purview of the federal government, which is why it should be up to voters in the community to decide what tract to take on the subject of drugs. They are in the best position to gauge the effects of policy changes.
Abortion may be a similar issue.
Under the dubious auspices of Roe V. Wade, abortion as a right was precariously balanced on a foundation of federal overreach and privacy laws. Conservative states, since the passage of Roe, were already doing everything in their power to restrict abortion access in their state.
Like Democratic sanctuary cities, or states with relaxed drug laws, anti-abortion states chose their course of action without waiting for permission from the federal government, and in some cases, in flagrant violation of guidelines from it.
If voters don’t see a difference in abortion access where they live, it may be hard for Democrats to keep the issue foremost in the minds of voters.
Whereas multiplying economic woes are something struggling voters are being forced to confront every day, wherever they live.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)