By Dick Polman
When high court theocrat Samuel Alito wrote his screed abolishing the constitutional right to an abortion, he insisted – quoting the late rightwing justice Antonin Scalia – that the issue of abortion should be “resolved like most questions in our democracy, by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting.”
Be careful what you wish for, pal.
In a stunning landslide that should prompt all Republican midterm strategists to soil their undies, the voters of Kansas – a red state that endorsed Donald Trump’s re-election by 15 percentage points and hasn’t gone blue in a presidential race since 1964 – surged to the polls in a statewide referendum and protected a women’s right to choose. The margin of victory: Roughly 17 percentage points.
Forced-birth reactionaries, bankrolled by big bucks from the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City (which said that abortion “encourages women to attack an essential part of their femininity”), mounted a seemingly formidable campaign to erase language in the state constitution that guarantees the right of personal autonomy. But, as Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!”
Turns out, they were decimated. Anyone who still doubts that abortion could be a powerful issue for Democrats in the midterm elections, an issue that propels angry women en masse to the polls, need only examine the voting stats in Kansas.
– After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, there was a huge spike in new voter registrants. Among those newbies, Democrats outpaced Republicans by eight percentage points – in a state where Republicans crush their opponents in the statewide voting rolls by 19 points. And 70 percent of the newly registered voters were female. Take a wild guess why they suddenly signed up.
– The Republican state legislature cleverly scheduled this referendum for Aug. 2 in order to maximize right-wing turnout and dampen pro-choice turnout. After all, college campuses are empty on Aug. 2 (i.e., fewer young women would be voting), and most of the primaries on the same day’s ballot were Republican-only contests (i.e., fewer Democrats would be voting). Yes, rigging the referendum for early August seemed clever indeed, but the GOP screwed itself. Kansas turnout on this midterm primary day topped 900,000 – twice as many voters as the last midterm primary in 2018.
– Early voting, a practice long favored by Democratic leaners, was 246 percent higher than in the 2018 Kansas primaries.
– The blue surge aside, it was clear that a sizable share of Trump voters switched sides and endorsed female body autonomy. One random example: Heavily rural Franklin County, southeast of Topeka, went for Trump in 2020 by nearly 40 percentage points. But its voters protected abortion rights by 12 points. Like many other normally Republican voters (as well as the voting independents), they were swayed by the pro-choice campaign’s message that banning abortion was an infringement on personal freedom, a governmental threat “to interfere with private medical decisions.” In the end, 14 counties that backed Trump in 2020 switched sides and voted for abortion rights.
– Most significant was populous highly-educated suburban Johnson County, east of Kansas City, which has a sizable center-right citizenry. In that county, the pro-choice campaign rolled up a whopping 68 percent of the votes. That stat alone should freak out any Republican midterm strategists who still think that Roe’s demise will fail to galvanize blue-leaning voters in, say, the suburbs of Philadelphia and other swing states’ suburban counties.
Granted, other issues will also be in play this November – especially inflation, if it’s still bad. But Kansas has sent an important message: People get really ticked off when their rights get taken away.
The GOP’s theocrats have been put on notice.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at [email protected]