Kansas Abortion Vote Tests Political Energy in Post-Roe America
OLATHE, Chance. – In the final days before Kansans decides to remove abortion rights protections from their state constitution, Kansas City’s politically competitive suburbs have become hotbeds of activism.
In neighborhoods where yard signs often tout high school sports teams, dueling abortion-related posts now also line the front yards. A cafe known for its chocolates and cheesecake has become a haven for abortion rights advocates and a source of anger for opponents. Plates have been stolen a catholic church was destroyed earlier this month and the tension is palpable on the eve of the first major vote on the abortion issue since Roe v. Wade was quashed in June.
“I’m really sad that happened,” said Leslie Schmitz, 54, of Olathe, speaking about the landscape of abortion access. “And crazy. Sad and angry.”
There may be no greater motivator in modern American politics than anger. And for months, Republican voters outraged by the Biden administration have been explosively excited about this year’s election. Democrats, meanwhile, have faced base erosion and significant challenges with independent voters.
But interviews with more than 40 voters in populous Johnson County, Kansas this week show that after Roe’s fall, Republicans no longer have a monopoly on anger — especially in states where abortion rights are clearly on the ballot and especially in the outskirts of the battlefield.
“I feel pretty strongly about this,” said Chris Price, 46, a politically independent who said he voted for Mitt Romney for president in 2012 before supporting Democrats when Donald J. Trump was on the ballot. “I would not support the candidates who would support an abortion ban at all. Period of time.”
When asked whether threats to abortion rights had affected her motivation to run in this fall’s midterm elections, Natalie Roberts-Wilner, a Democrat from Merriam, Kansas, added: “Yes. Yes. Yes. Surely.”
Kansans will vote on a constitutional amendment that, if passed, could allow the Republican-dominated legislature to pass new abortion restrictions or ban the procedure altogether. Nearby states, including Missouri — which is separated from some rival Kansas suburbs by State Line Road, a thoroughfare littered with abortion-related yard signs — have already enacted near-total bans.
Voting is open to both non-affiliated Kansans and partisans. And whatever the outcome, activists on both sides are warning against drawing sweeping national conclusions from an August voting question, given the complex countercurrent at play.
Read more about abortion issues in America
The amendment language itself has been criticized as confusing, and in a predominantly Republican state, Democrats and disaffiliated voters are less accustomed to voting on Primary Day. On the other hand, a few voters said they would vote no to the amendment, but could support Republicans in November — a sign that some who support abortion rights still weigh more heavily in the election. And rural, a Washington Post-Schar School Poll released Friday showed Republicans and abortion opponents were more likely to vote in November.
But there’s no question that the abortion debate in the state’s most populous county — located in the third district of Kansas, one of the national most competitive Congressional Seats – Provides the first significant national test of how the problem resonates in the suburban swing area.
Like other highly educated, temperate areas — from the suburbs of Philadelphia to Orange County, California — the Third District is home to a significant number of center-right voters who, like Mr. Price, felt comfortable with Mr. Romney in 2012. . embraced Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, including Governor Laura Kelly and Representative Sharice Davids, and many have shied away from Mr Trump.
Whether those voters will stay in the Democratic fold this year, with Mr. Trump out of office, has been an open question in US politics. Democrats are betting that outrage over far-reaching abortion restrictions will help the party retain at least some of those moderates, despite the extraordinary political headwinds they face.
Republicans insist that anger over inflation — and fear of a recession — will crowd out other concerns for a wide range of voters. (In polls, much more Americans cite inflation or the economy as the biggest problem facing the country than abortion.)
Tuesday’s vote will provide an early snapshot of attitudes and energy around abortion, if not a definitive predictor of how those voters will behave in the fall.
“How motivating is it really?” said Dan Sena, a Democratic strategist who led the House’s 2018 takeover of abortion rights, adding that recently there have been signs of improvement for Democrats in some suburban districts. ‘How does it actually move, when it stands on its own, women and parts of the electorate? And this gives us real insight and the opportunity to get an answer to that.”
Limited public opinion polls have shown that fairly close if unpredictable race.
“It looks like the ‘Yes’ vote is still in charge, but it’s narrowed,” said Mike Kuckelman, the chairman of the Kansas Republican Party. Citing the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that handed control of abortion rights to the states, he continued, “A lot of it is because, I think, the Dobbs decision has pushed the pro-choice forces to come out. .”
The Kansas City Star reported Thursday that there has been an increase of about 246 percent in early personal votes compared to the 2018 midterms. Several polling stations in both moderate and more conservative parts of Johnson County were busy all day this week, including in a downpour and in the sweltering heat. And on Friday, Scott Schwabthe Republican Secretary of State, predicted that about 36 percent of Kansas voters would participate in the 2022 primaries, slightly more than the 2020 primaries.
His office said the constitutional amendment “has increased voter interest in the election”.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who said, ‘I haven’t been involved before, but I’m going to vote,'” said Mr. Kuckelman.
Other Republicans said the abortion amendment and overthrowing Roe did not affect their commitment to vote in other races this year — that they have long been deeply involved.
“Not energetic anymore,” said John Morrill, 58, of Overland Park, who supports the amendment. “I was already very energetic.”
On the Olathe site, which drew more conservative voters on Thursday, Melissa Moore said she voted for the amendment because of her deeply held beliefs against abortion.
“I understand women say, ‘I have to control my own body,’ but once you have another body in it, that’s their body,” said Ms. Moore. But when asked how the intense national focus on abortion affected how she felt about voting, she replied, “I tend to be energetic all the time.”
A few others on the Olathe early vote site indicated that they voted against the amendment and were inclined to support Democrats this fall. But they spoke in hushed tones and declined to give full names, citing concerns about professional backlash, illustrating how taxing the environment has become.
Closer to the Missouri border, customers at André’s, an upscale Swiss cafe, felt more free to openly voice their opposition to the amendment. The restaurant and the shop stoked controversy earlier this summer, when employees wore “Vote No” stickers or buttons and encouraged customers to vote, but several lunchtime attendees made it clear they shared that view.
“We just want to make sure people have the right to make choices,” said Silvana Botero, 45, who said she and a group of about 20 friends all voted no and she was also more excited to vote in November.
At a nearby polling station, Shelly Schneider, a 66-year-old Republican, was more politically conflicted. Ms. Schneider opposed the amendment but planned to support some Republicans in November. Still, she was open to Mrs. Kelly, the Democratic governor, especially if the amendment passed. Passing the amendment, she acknowledged, could open the way for potentially far-reaching action by the legislature.
“I think Laura Kelly is kind of a hedge against anything that could pass,” she said. “She could offer some common sense there.”
Mitch Smith contributed to the reporting.