On the trail: Abortion front and center on NH campaign trail

For the Monitor
Published: 7/1/2022 4:21:24 PM
Modified: 7/1/2022 4:18:50 PM

Sen. Maggie Hassan vows that she’ll “fight and never back down” to protect legalized abortion.

The former governor and first-term U.S. senator makes her pledge in her latest campaign commercial, which started running on New Hampshire airwaves this week in the wake of the monumental move by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to upend the landmark half-century-old Roe v. Wade ruling.

“This decision catapults us backwards, and there are politicians like Mitch McConnell, who’ve made it clear that their objective is to ban abortion nationwide,” Hassan charges in her ad. “We will not be intimidated. I will fight and never back down.”

Hassan faces a potentially challenging reelection this year and is one of the GOP’s top targets in November’s midterms. And she’s one of a growing number of Democratic incumbents, candidates, party committees and allied outside groups to go up with ads in the week since the blockbuster high court abortion ruling.

The Democratic National Committee, in conjunction with the New Hampshire Democratic Party, went up with digital ads in the Granite State that charge that “Republicans aren’t stopping at overturning Roe. They want to go further and ban abortion. Believe them.”

Democrats aim to spotlight the issue between now and November, when the party will be defending their razor-thin House and Senate majorities as they face historical headwinds in an extremely difficult political climate fueled by skyrocketing gas prices, soaring inflation and President Biden’s underwater approval ratings.

Party strategists see a silver lining in the seismic overturning of Roe v. Wade and the returning of the issue of legalized abortion to state legislatures. It may offer Democrats a chance to alter the campaign conversation, energize the left-leaning base, and win back key female and suburban voters who helped the Democrats win back the House in 2018 but appeared to cross party lines in some 2020 congressional contests and again in GOP victories in elections in Virginia and New Jersey last November.

Democrats point to national public opinion polls conducted in the wake of Supreme Court ruling that indicate a solid majority of Americans disagree with the opinion and that it may motivate more Democrats rather than Republicans to vote in the midterms. The most recent polling in the Granite State – conducted a month ago by the University of New Hampshire – indicated that 6 in 10 opposed overturning Roe v. Wade.

Democrats now aim to turn anger about the decision into support at the ballot box, even as Republicans aim to keep attention on rising prices and crime less than five months before the midterms.

Among those who are furious are New Hampshire progressives, some of whom who’ve long viewed Hassan with suspicions.

Concord’s Arnie Arnesen is one of them. The former Democratic gubernatorial nominee who’s a progressive activist and radio talk show host told the Monitor that “this election is not about Maggie. It’s actually not about abortion. It’s about whether we’re a country that I recognize anymore. With the assault on virtually every single right, I realize that the other party offers me nothing except they’re going to strip me of everything I believe in.”

“So I’m going to do anything. And I’m going to be militant...And here’s the good news – Maggie gets to tag along,” Arnesen said when asked if the Supreme Court ruling would ignite support from Hassan among the left of the Democratic Party. “At this point in time she is my vehicle for my outrage.”

In New Hampshire, Democrats have had a head start in the now national full-court press on abortion. The state party and politicians have repeatedly spotlighted the issue for a year –  since the passage last summer of a state budget that Republicans showcased as the most conservative in decades – that included a ban on abortions after 24 weeks of gestation and mandatory ultrasounds for all women before a pregnancy is terminated.

But longtime New Hampshire-based Republican consultant David Carney argued that “saying something works and knowing something works is not the same thing. Democrats use this issue like the boy who cried wolf. They do this every cycle when they have no agenda.”

Carney, a veteran of numerous GOP presidential and statewide campaigns over the past couple of decades, acknowledged that “obviously people are concerned in some states” over the issue of abortion.

But he said the midterm’s top issue is “going to be $5 dollar gas and in New Hampshire over $7 for home heating fuel,” as well as soaring prices for natural gas and electricity.

Republicans also aim to counter the attacks over abortion by spotlighting what they describe as the Democrats’ “radical position of supporting late-term abortions up until the moment of birth.”

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