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Biden team increasingly hopes to ride the abortion issue to victory

Seven months before Election Day, President Biden still faces widespread concerns about his age. Hundreds of thousands of voters have lodged protest votes against him in Democratic primaries. And with inflation remaining unexpectedly high, the topsy-turvy post-pandemic economy threatens to hurt his reelection, too.

But inside the Biden campaign and across the Democratic Party, officials see a potential silver bullet that they hope supersedes all of the president’s challenges in his rematch against former president Donald Trump: abortion rights.

The Biden campaign plans to spend every day until Nov. 5 reminding voters of Trump’s record on abortion, hoping the issue will mobilize their core voters, bring disaffected voters back into the fold and make inroads with voters whom Democrats have often struggled to win.

“There is no doubt that this issue is central to the contrast between us and Trump,” Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign chair, said in an interview. “There is no way he can wiggle out of his ownership of this issue.”

She said the campaign aims to connect the issue of abortion to a broader message on Trump’s record of disarray and division. “They are being reminded more and more of things they hoped to forget — the chaos and the pain that have come in the wake of Trump’s leadership,” O’Malley Dillon said of voters. “Abortion is central to that.”

The 2022 Supreme Court decision overturning of Roe v. Wade was followed by Democratic successes in the 2022 midterms and in the 2023 governor’s race in Kentucky. Party leaders’ fear that the issue would lose salience among voters has largely abated as states around the country have instituted restrictive abortion bans, keeping the issue before the public.

The latest example came Tuesday, when Arizona’s Supreme Court reinstated an 1864 law that bans nearly all abortions, a decision that was decried not only by Democrats but also by many Republicans. Biden won Arizona by fewer than 11,000 votes in 2020, and the court’s action could push the state more firmly into the Democratic camp.

The day before the court’s ruling, Trump had said abortion policy should be left up to individual states, a position that appeared to mark a retreat from his previous stance and angered some antiabortion activists. When Arizona’s high court issued its ruling the following day, Trump criticized it as going too far.

The Biden’s campaign energized response this week demonstrates its playbook on abortion and the opportunity it sees to galvanize voters who may have drifted away from the president.

Biden himself assailed Trump’s comments on abortion in a lengthy statement. Vice President Harris announced a trip to Arizona. The campaign blasted out statements reminding voters of the former president’s record. Democrats highlighted individual stories of families affected by abortion restrictions.

Biden’s team also released a searing new ad blaming Trump for the near-death of a woman who was denied an abortion after her water broke, leading to a serious infection.

The 60-second spot focused on a Texas woman, Amanda Zurawski, showing her and her husband going through a box of items they had gathered for their baby, who they had planned to name Willow. Zurawski’s water broke at 18 weeks, but the ad says doctors initially sent her home from the hospital without ending her pregnancy — despite the risk of infection and the near-certainty she would lose the baby — because of a Texas law that sharply restricts abortions.

In the ad, Zurawski starts to cry, as text on the screen says she may never get pregnant again because of the infection that nearly killed her. The ad concludes: “Donald Trump did this.”

After the Arizona decision, the campaign put out a second abortion-focused ad and announced it is spending seven figures on the two abortion ads in the state.

A series of Republicans, including Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake, have backed off sweeping antiabortion views, which Democrats cite as proof that Republicans know their longtime position is politically perilous.

The Trump camp dismisses the Democratic efforts. Trump argues that ending Roe v. Wade was the right thing to do, and that leaving abortion to the states will take the edge off the Democrats’ political advantage. The former president’s allies say that the abortion rights backlash is far from enough to overcome Biden’s vulnerabilities, from his age (he is 81 and Trump is 77) to inflation and illegal immigration.

But the Biden campaign sees reproductive freedom as a powerful message, especially for winning back disaffected young voters and people of color outraged by the president’s support of Israel and its military campaign in Gaza. Since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people and took about 250 others hostage, Biden has tightly embraced Israel.

But over the last several months — as Israeli military strikes have killed more than 31,000 Palestinians and the United Nations says children have begun dying of hunger amid the risk of a severe famine — Biden has faced increasing calls from many Democrats to take a tougher line with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden has pushed for Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, but he has so far resisted calls to impose conditions on U.S. military aid to Israel.

Biden campaign officials acknowledge privately that the outrage over Gaza is a significant hurdle for the president, and they are hopeful that a diplomatic breakthrough will end or significantly reduce the fighting. But even if that does not happen, the campaign’s internal polling has found that abortion outranks the Gaza war in importance to many voters, according to people familiar with the polls who requested anonymity to describe confidential materials.

That leaves Biden campaign officials hopeful that even many disaffected voters will pull the lever for Biden in November.

For his part, Trump has said contradictory things about abortion over the years. Decades ago, he described himself as pro-choice. Years later, he said he was pro-life. As president, he backed a 20-week abortion ban and nominated the conservative Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.

Now, as he runs for president again, Trump says the issue should be determined by states and has added that he would not sign a federal bill banning or restricting abortion. He has suggested that Republicans should not take positions on abortion that would risk losing elections.

Against that shifting background, Biden’s campaign is seeking to highlight Trump’s role in ending Roe and his statements that he is proud to have done so. “There’s no way Donald Trump can ‘moderate’ himself on this issue,” O’Malley Dillon said.

Campaign officials say that Trump’s inconsistent history on the issue has given them a rare opportunity to define the former president’s image to the electorate. In most other areas, Trump’s positions and actions are so well-known to voters that Democrats have little opportunity to change their opinion.

“Abortion was not a major part in their minds of Trump’s first term,” Molly Murphy, one of Biden’s pollsters, said of swing voters. “And while we all know who watched this closely that Trump did dismantle abortion rights and protections — especially with Dobbs but also in many different ways — the average voter didn’t pay close attention to that, and it was a long time ago.”

She added, “This is a new opportunity to frame him as the architect behind the overturning of Roe, which was meaningful to people, and more importantly, someone who will continue to take away and dismantle these rights if he’s let back into the Oval Office.”

Ianthe Metzger, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Votes, applauded the Biden campaign’s focus on the impact that abortion restrictions are having on people’s lives.

“We don’t really have to exaggerate the situation,” Metzger said. “The facts speak for themselves: We are in an abortion-care crisis.”

Democrats also point to abortion-related ballot initiatives as helpful to their Biden’s electoral prospects. Florida has approved a ballot initiative that would enshrine the right to abortion in the state’s constitution, and organizers in Nevada and Arizona say they have gathered enough signatures to win ballot access for similar initiatives in their states.

Biden narrowly won Nevada and Arizona in 2020, and Democrats are optimistic the ballot measures will energize their base not only to vote for Biden, but also to volunteer and organize for Democrats, including Senate and House candidates.

Still, a challenge for Biden remains that he is not a natural champion of abortion. A devout Catholic, he has evolved on the issue over his lengthy political career, and he has been criticized by liberal activists for his sometimes slow endorsement of universal abortion rights and his apparent discomfort in saying the word “abortion.”

But Biden’s allies cite his decades-long record of supporting reproductive rights and his recent calls for Congress to codify Roe as evidence of his strong stance on the issue and the clear contrast with Trump.

Asked by a reporter Wednesday what message he had for Arizonans after their state revived an 1864 abortion ban, Biden ridiculed the notion of resurrecting a Civil War-era statute that was enacted when Arizona was still a territory.

“Elect me. I’m in the 20th century — 21st century — not back then,” Biden said. “They weren’t even a state.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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