Abortion gives Democrats a chance to flip a Senate seat in Wisconsin

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin, September 16 (Reuters) – Nicole Slavin was a reliable Democratic voter in a conservative region of Wisconsin, but she realized that casting a ballot was no longer enough after state access to abortion disappeared almost overnight was.

Slavin, a business development director, called on her network of contacts to mobilize a cross-party group of women in support of US Senate nominee Mandela Barnes, a pro-choice Democrat. She knocked on doors for Barnes and organized an event for him last week that drew more than 100 women to a Green Bay brewery.

“There’s no way to keep calm and sit down anymore,” said Slavin, 48.

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Evidence is mounting that a wave of female voters could make all the difference if Democrats are to retain their Senate majority and stem their expected House losses in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

Wisconsin is one of several states where voter registration among women has skyrocketed since the US Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade lifted in June. This decision invalidated national protections against abortion and left behind an 1849 law banning most abortions in Wisconsin, prompting the state’s four abortion clinics to close the procedure.

According to an analysis by Democratic data company TargetSmart, women have overtaken men by almost 10% in new registrations in Wisconsin. Women vote more often than men in presidential elections, but this gap narrows in midterm elections.

The battleground state is critical to Democrats’ hopes of holding on to their slim Senate majority. If Barnes can defeat incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson, it would provide a cushion should the party lose a seat in a state like Nevada or Georgia.

The Senate majority PAC, an outside group that supports Democratic candidates, made Johnson the target of the first abortion-centric TV ad to air after the Supreme Court ruling. On Friday, the group launched a new abortion ad targeting Johnson as part of a $1.6 million purchase. The ad will appear in Green Bay, among other places.

Tom Bonier, TargetSmart’s chief executive officer, reckons many new registrants are young women who took abortion rights for granted.

“We’re seeing these constituents pivoting toward some level of action now,” Bonier said.

Adrianna Pokela, 23, said she cried after Roe’s fall. She will vote in her first midterm election in November and is trying to persuade others of her generation to do the same.

In July, she helped plan a protest march in Green Bay that drew several hundred people.

“I work my butt off trying to find ways to express the importance of this election,” Pokela said.


Opinion polls show that the issue of abortion is growing in importance for Democratic voters in an electoral cycle dominated by inflation concerns.

A Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that support for legal abortion has grown nationwide since the court decision and that more than half of voters polled said the issue made them more motivated to vote in November.

After voters in Kansas last month thwarted Republican efforts to ban abortion in that state, Democrats have focused on women as the voters most likely to help prevent a Republican takeover of Congress .

Advocacy group Galvanize Action released nine digital ads about abortion rights in Wisconsin, targeting moderate white women, one of the state’s largest constituencies. The group has poll data that says these women, many of whom are not traditional Democratic voters, can be persuaded to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.

Jackie Payne, the group’s chief executive, said the ads’ messages revolved around compassion for women and keeping the government out of personal health decisions.

“You have to connect with voters with their values,” Payne said. “And then make them expose themselves.”

Another group, the Democratic Messaging Project, has put up a billboard on a major freeway in downtown Milwaukee that reads, “CANCELLING GONE, IS BIRTH CONTROL NEXT?”, one of 10 billboards the group will have by the end of the week in the state will have.

Nationally, Priorities USA Action, which targets swing voters in battleground states, said half of the ads it runs in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania mention abortion rights.


Barnes, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, ran a television advertisement in which his mother spoke of having an abortion due to medical complications that threatened her health.

“It’s about personal liberty that was taken away by the Supreme Court,” Barnes said in an interview. “People are cheered.”

His campaign believes Johnson, a two-year incumbent, is vulnerable on the issue.

Johnson has said he supports making abortion illegal, except for rape, incest and to protect the health of the mother. He has said he does not support a federal ban on abortion.

But Johnson’s campaign rarely talks about abortion. Instead, it has tried to pin Barnes on Milwaukee’s high crime rates and brand him as a supporter of liberal criminal justice policies.

Analysts say Johnson may be at greater risk than in past years because of his support for former President Donald Trump’s bogus voter fraud allegations, which could alienate moderate voters. Polls show a close race.

Peggy Phillips, 66, who attended Barnes in Green Bay and described herself as an independent, said she tends to support the Democratic nominee. The main reason, she said, was the abortion.

“I firmly believe it’s an individual issue,” Phillips said.

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Reporting by James Oliphant; Edited by Colleen Jenkins and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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