Democrats focus on abortion in new ads ahead of tough midterm races

Hoping to make the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade a key issue in this fall’s midterms, Democrats across the country have begun to focus their campaign advertising on abortion.

Last month, before the official ruling from the court but after the draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion was leaked in May, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., released an ad attacking her Republican opponent, Tiffany Smiley, saying “She’s risking women’s reproductive health care.”

It included a clip in which Smiley proclaimed she was “100% pro-life,” along with footage showing her standing alongside former President Donald Trump. Abortion remains legal in Washington, despite the reversal of Roe.

On Friday, the Murray campaign released another ad that includes a doctor identified as a gynecologist saying, “You think women’s reproductive health care is safe here in Washington? Not with Mitch McConnell’s handpicked candidate in the U.S. Senate, Tiffany Smiley.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., listens pensively at a hearing.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on June 16, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) (CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag)

Murray has represented Washington state in the Senate since first winning her seat in 1992. While President Biden won the state by 19 points in 2020, the fact that Murray is spending money on ad buys indicates the difficult political environment Democrats find themselves heading into this fall’s midterms. With inflation and the coronavirus pandemic both dragging on, and no sign that either is likely to improve dramatically anytime soon, Republicans appear likely to retake control of the House of Representatives, while control of the Senate is a tossup, according to the polling analytics website FiveThirtyEight.

Murray has been forced to spend well over $1 million on ads to try to hold onto her seat. In one, she speaks directly to the camera on the subject of abortion.

“It is a horrifying reality: extreme politicians across our country, now in charge of the most private health care decisions,” Murray said. “The Supreme Court may have ruled. But it’s up to us to make sure they don’t get the final word. I won’t stop fighting until we guarantee reproductive freedom for every American. We will not be still. We will not be silent. We will not back down.”

In response to that ad, the Smiley campaign said that Murray was resorting “to misleading scare tactics to distract from the fact that after 30 years in the Senate, her constituents are no better off under her leadership.”

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who is also expected to face a tough reelection fight against a still-to-be-determined Republican opponent this fall, released her own ad, speaking directly to camera about abortion.

“The Supreme Court has taken away a woman’s most fundamental freedom: control over her own body,” Hassan tells the voters in her state, where a recent poll showed that 61% of residents either “strongly” or “somewhat” disapproved of overturning Roe. “We will not be intimidated. I will fight and never back down. I’m Maggie Hassan, and I approve this message, because protecting our personal freedoms isn’t just what’s right for New Hampshire, it’s what makes us New Hampshire.”

Rep. Val Demings, the top Democratic challenger of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., this November, released a new ad this week highlighting Rubio's stance on abortion. In the 30-second ad, the narrator says Rubio “supports forced pregnancy, even for victims of rape and incest” and that he “wrote the bill to criminalize doctors” and “voted to mandate unmarried women to publicize their sexual encounters."

Rep. Val Demings with the Capitol in the background.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., at a news conference on rising national crime rates on Capitol Hill on Feb. 9, 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

PolitiFact found that Rubio’s positions on exceptions have varied and that while he co-sponsored a bill that would have sentenced doctors to prison time, he did not write it.

The Demings ad concludes by pointing to a website created by her campaign that highlights Rubio’s positions on abortion. Rubio's campaign responded by saying, “Val Demings supports abortion up until the moment of birth and expects Florida taxpayers to foot the bill.”

“Demings is desperate to divert attention from her fervent support of Joe Biden’s agenda, which led to skyrocketing inflation and record high gas prices," Elizabeth Gregory, a spokesperson for Rubio's campaign, told the Florida Phoenix.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., on the steps leading up to the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., at the Senate steps of the U.S. Capitol on June 9, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images) (CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag)

While Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., has not released a new ad since the abortion ruling, the issue may already have benefited him in his race against the Republican nominee, Herschel Walker, a football legend in the state. Earlier polling had shown Warnock locked in a tight race, but a Quinnipiac survey conducted between June 23 and 27 (the Supreme Court decision was released the morning of June 24) showed Warnock with a 10-point lead.

“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, meanwhile, has been outspoken about his opposition to the court’s ruling.

“I'm outraged by the Supreme Court's decision,” Warnock said in a tweet. “As a pro-choice pastor, I’ll never back down from this fight. Women must be able to make their own health care decisions, not politicians.”

It’s not just in Senate races where Roe's reversal is shifting the political calculus. In Pennsylvania, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, has been hammering his opponent, Republican State Sen. Doug Mastriano, on abortion since before Mastriano won the May primary.

A sign reading Protect Roe on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
The podium on the steps of the U.S. Capitol after a rally held by House Democrats protesting the Supreme Court's leaked draft opinion on May 13, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) (CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag)

In a new ad released last week, the Shapiro campaign accurately states that Mastriano “wants to outlaw and criminalize all abortions,” with no “exceptions for rape, incest or even the life of the mother.” The ad also also highlights Mastriano’s opposition to gay marriage and his presence outside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.

A Yahoo News-YouGov poll taken after the release of the Supreme Court ruling found that only 33% of Americans supported the decision to overturn Roe, and that 61% of those surveyed now expressed little or no confidence in the Supreme Court. Axios reported that ads in support of abortion rights have flooded social media in the wake of the ruling, just as they did after the leak of the draft ruling in early May.

Whether the ruling will help Democrats in four months remains to be seen. Writing for the newsUniversity of Virginia Center for Politics, its managing editor, Kyle Kondik, wrote that while the decisions will “perhaps not [change] the basic, pro-Republican trajectory of the election, but [give] Democrats in bluish states and districts a good reason to stick with their party, despite whatever economic concerns they may have.”