(Bloomberg) -- Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and other Democrats in Georgia are looking to use anger over a looming ban on abortion to attract suburban college-educated White women and men -- a block of voters that could prove pivotal in the state’s high-stakes elections in November.
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Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who is seeking re-election, faces a rematch against Abrams, a nationally known voting-rights advocate who Kemp narrowly defeated four years ago. Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock is facing Republican Herschel Walker, a former NFL football player and acolyte of former president Donald Trump, in a race that could decide control of the Senate.
Kemp signed a law in 2019 banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or at about six weeks, but it has been tied up in legal challenges. The Circuit Court in Atlanta had been delaying a decision, but is now expected to act in July in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v Wade.
“What has been done is an assault on our liberties,” Abrams tweeted after the Supreme Court decision. ”But we can and will fight back. We can organize. We can vote.”
The challenge for Abrams, Warnock and other candidates who support abortion rights, is to use the Roe ruling and the reality of the impending state ban to motivate voters to the polls.
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Some of these voters might have daughters entering adulthood without access to safe and legal abortions; some may be mothers who had similar experiences 25 years ago, said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor.
White suburban voters were “a critical element” in delivering key victories to Democrats in 2020, Bullock said. Georgia Democrats won 42% of the vote from White suburban, college-educated voters in 2020, and “if they can do that again they ought to be where they need to be to win,” Bullock said.
Before the Supreme Court ruling, Kemp was winning over a lot of moderate Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump in 2020. But Friday’s decision, Bullock said, changes the calculus for the governor. “He was clearly positioned to get more votes than Trump got, because he’s not Trump’s guy. But now he gets saddled with potential blow back from White voters over this decision.”
Abrams built a massive voting rights organization called Fair Fight Action to encourage turnout and advocate for changes to voter registration laws to increase turnout and promote fair elections.
President Joe Biden was able to carry the state in 2020 and defeat Donald Trump by increasing Democratic turnout. But this year, voters nationwide are unhappy over issues such as inflation and high gas prices. Democrats are using the Roe ruling to remind them of what’s at stake in elections in places like Georgia.
Abortion rights advocates say they are examining a provision protecting privacy in the Georgia constitution as a way to possibly continue to fight for abortion rights in state court. But the focus now is mostly on changing the makeup of the state legislature and state leadership.
Alicia Stallworth, southeast campaign director for NARAL, said her organization has partnered with Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List to sink $150 million into this year’s mid-term elections, and that Georgia is one of the top targets. With spending on paid advertising, voter outreach, polling and contributions to political action committees, they plan to focus on electing candidates who they determine to be champions of sexual and reproductive rights.
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The state races are important because the Roe decision effectively throws the abortion question back to states to decide, altering the election season, “Not just at the top of the ticket but for every contested legislative race,” Melita Easters, executive director of Georgia’s WIN List said in an Atlanta television appearance.
WIN List is a PAC focused on electing Democratic women. “The fundamental right of women to make their medical decisions is on the ballot in November,” Easters said.
“Abrams and Warnock will talk about abortion openly” on the campaign trail, said Emory University political science Professor Andra Gillespie. “Democrats are organizing and plan to use abortion as a campaign issue.” Meanwhile, Kemp could choose to call a special session of the legislature and try to burnish his standing with his base by having the 2019 law changed to be more restrictive. “Does he do something to align Georgia with states that have an outright ban on abortion, with mostly no exceptions?”
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Most polls show Warnock and Walker locked in a tight race. Warnock, and the election last year of Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff, were celebrated for turning Georgia blue, and this election is being closely watched because of its importance in helping determine which party controls the Senate.
Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr filed a notice with the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit seeking to immediately implement a ban on abortions in the state. The ban makes exceptions for when the life of the mother is in danger or in cases of rape and incest, as long as the crimes have been reported to police. A federal district court overturned the law because it violated Roe v. Wade, and the state appealed. Carr, a Republican, also is seeking re-election.
“We are now honestly staring down the barrel of a six-week ban,” said Stallworth, of NARAL, an abortion rights advocacy organization.
Walker, a famed University of Georgia football player, has questioned how Warnock, a Baptist pastor, can support abortion rights. “I stand for life and Raphael Warnock stands for abortion,” Walker said in a statement after the Supreme Court decision. “I won’t apologize for erring on the side of life, especially considering the radical abortion views held by Senator Warnock and today’s Democrat party.”
Warnock, pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, tweeted a defense of his position. “As a pro-choice pastor, I’ve always believed that a patient’s room is way too small for a woman, her doctor, and the United States government,” Warnock said.
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Kemp called the Supreme Court decision, “an historic victory for life.” He tweeted, “I look forward to its impact on the legal proceeding surrounding Georgia’s LIFE Act and hope our law will be fully implemented and ultimately protect countless unborn lives here in the Peach State.”
Advocates worry the ban could exacerbate Georgia’s high maternal mortality rate, one of the worst in the nation. Black women in Georgia are at least twice as likely to die in childbirth as White women and about half the state’s rural counties lack obstetricians and gynecologists, and pediatricians. Georgia’s law differs from other so-called “heartbeat” laws banning abortion after a heartbeat has been detected, because it also grants a fetus personhood, allowing parents to claim it as a dependent for taxes and entitling it to child support.
“People think this is only a partisan issue, but it also plays high among conservative and suburban women,” Stallworth said. “They realize that politicians are trying to take something away from them. We feel very strongly that people are going to hold their elected officials accountable.”
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