After Alabama, abortion may be backseat issue in 2018 races

  • In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec, 13, 2017, Democrat Doug Jones speaks during an interview with the Associated Press, in Birmingham, Ala. Jones said he knew he had a path to victory. He said his win signals that voters are looking for a less vitriolic political rhetoric and vanquished the idea that a Democrat could not win in Alabama. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) John Bazemore

  • Sen.-elect Doug Jones speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. Weary national Republicans breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday, a day after voters knocked out their own party's scandal-plagued candidate in deep-red Alabama.(AP Photo/John Bazemore) John Bazemore

  • Doug Jones is greeted by a supporter before speaking during an election-night watch party Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. Jones has defeated Republican Roy Moore, a one-time GOP pariah who was embraced by the Republican Party and the president even after facing allegations of sexual impropriety. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) John Bazemore

  • U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore leaves the stage after speaking at the RSA activity center, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala. Moore did not concede defeat to his Democratic opponent Doug Jones. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart) Mike Stewart

  • U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at the end of an election-night watch party at the RSA activity center, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala. Moore didn't concede the election to Democrat Doug Jones. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Brynn Anderson

  • Democrat Doug Jones speaks Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. In a stunning victory aided by scandal, Jones won Alabama's special Senate election, beating back history, an embattled Republican opponent and President Donald Trump, who urgently endorsed GOP rebel Roy Moore despite a litany of sexual misconduct allegations. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) John Bazemore

Associated Press
Saturday, December 16, 2017

Alabama, one of the most conservative states in the country, with one of the most evangelical electorates, is sending an abortion-rights supporter to the U.S. Senate, despite GOP efforts to paint Democrat Doug Jones as unacceptable on the issue.

Certainly, any analysis of what Jones’s upset over Roy Moore means for other races involves a caveat: The Republican nominee was twice ousted from the state Supreme Court and stood accused of sexual misconduct with minors, baggage that gave Jones an opening in a state that hadn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1992.

Yet Jones could not have won without crossover votes from conservative Republicans who oppose abortion, and that’s just what he did.

Exit polls show Jones won a third of voters who said abortion should be illegal in most cases, and 27 percent of those who want it outlawed completely.

These numbers suggest that abortion may not necessarily be a defining issue in the 2018 midterm elections.

Abortion is “still a dividing line in American politics,” said Republican pollster Greg Strimple, who surveys voters for the Congressional Leadership Fund, the political action committee backed by Speaker Paul Ryan that is helping defend the GOP’s House majority.

But a candidate’s stand on abortion mobilizes only slices of the two parties’ bases, and for most every voter in between, “it’s a secondary issue,” Strimple said.

There’s an argument that this contest was unusually unsavory for conservatives, making them choose between a man accused of preying on girls, and a Democrat. But it’s clear that Jones’s support of legalized abortion wasn’t a deal-breaker for just enough Republicans to give Democrats a 20,000-vote margin, out of more than 1.35 million votes cast.

That’s heartening for Democrats looking to dent Republican domination in Congress and statehouses by targeting voters dissatisfied with President Donald Trump and unhappy over Republican moves to roll back Democrats’ 2010 health insurance expansion and push tax cuts tilted to corporations and wealthy individuals.

“We are competing on a massive offensive battlefield, in districts that went for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and that are suburban, rural and urban,” said Meredith Kelly of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Regardless of where they are running, (our) candidates have no reason to compromise on their support for a woman’s health care, her right to choose, and her economic security.”