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Morgan Byrd said that if it hadn’t been for Texas ’new and restrictive abortion law, she probably wouldn’t have signed up to volunteer for the Planned Parenthood exam.
“I wish I could say yes, but no, it’s really the farthest stretch that encourages me to get up more,” he said. “That’s telling me I need to be out there. I have to be spreading the word.”
Byrd was part of a small group of volunteers who gathered this month in front of a cafe in Arlington, Virginia, this month to learn about conducting tests for the abortion rights group.
Early voting is already underway in the Virginia election, ahead of November election day, and at the top of the ballot is the governor’s run, the first major competitive contest since new restrictions on abortion. Texas came into force. For Democrats, it’s also important evidence of how much opposition to this law can motivate voters, even if they don’t live in Texas, before next year’s election, where Congress control will be decided.
The Virginia race pits former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe against Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, the former CEO of the private equity firm of the Carlyle Group.
Texas law has made abortion a bigger problem than it already was in the campaign. Opponents of abortion rights have been upset with outgoing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
Then, a July video posted by a website called American Independent raised the temperature of the debate over the state of abortion. It shows Youngkin telling a woman posing as an opponent of abortion rights that talking about restricting abortion will make winning harder.
“When I’m governor and I have a majority in the House, we can start offending,” he said. “But as a campaign theme, unfortunately, that won’t actually win my independent votes that I have to get.”
McAuliffe has covered Youngkin’s video through local TV markets in campaign ads.
Democrats want to talk about abortion rights. For Republicans, it’s the economy
McAuliffe has stressed his support for abortion rights and said he would sign a law that would facilitate third-quarter abortion if the patient’s life is in danger.
Meanwhile, Youngkin has said he would not sign a law like the one in Texas, which bans abortions after six weeks, and also rewards citizens for successfully filing a lawsuit against people who break that law. He also dodged a question about whether to sign a “fetal heartbeat” bill, but said he supported a “pain threshold bill.” These types of bills prohibit abortion after 20 weeks.
And both candidates have worked to paint each other’s positions as extremes, a logical tactic since Americans ’views on abortion exist largely between the two poles furthest from the debate. A plurality of Americans, 48%, believe abortion should be legal in some circumstances, according to Gallup. Meanwhile, about a third believe it should always be legal and a fifth believe it should always be illegal.
However, his tactics differ in the fact that Youngkin is not taking on the issue as much as McAuliffe.
“He talks about a pretty familiar idea in politics that the side that feels most threatened by something is probably the one that gets the most motivation,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia. “And so the side that perhaps feels most threatened that the status quo of abortion will change is the Democrats right now.”
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The types of events the candidates have held show how they are trying to frame the race. McAuliffe toured a Charlottesville abortion clinic just over a week after Texas law came into force.
“This is so anti-American. This pits neighbors against neighbors, friends against friends. It’s outrageous,” he said. “And that can get here in Virginia.”
Youngkin, meanwhile, has struggled to make a career out of the economy and inflation in particular, which he emphasized while greeting shoppers at a grocery store in Woodbridge.
“One of the things I want to do if I’m elected governor is that I want to eliminate the grocery tax,” he said as he greeted a buyer at the bakery counter.
“Amen,” replied the man.
The 2.5% state tax on supermarkets has become a central element of Youngkin’s campaign. Highlighting inflation is a tactic that other Republicans seem prepared to use in their mid-term races as well.
A tight career in a state that has been a Democratic trend
Youngkin keeps the race competitive in a state that has become unreliable for Democrats. A new survey of The Washington Post and George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government found Youngkin and McAuliffe almost tied among likely voters.
Abortion is often an important issue for many voters, but it is the most important issue for only a small turnout: the latest poll by the Publication considers that 9% of voters have abortion as their main issue.
But that small involvement is important in a narrow career, says Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, which advocates for abortion rights.
“When you have a career as tight as this and you motivate the vote for life to get out [and] “Whatever they can do, Democrats should be afraid,” he said. “Because that will matter in this election.”
Again, abortion can motivate a voter even without it being the person’s main issue. Which brings us back to Morgan Byrd, the new launcher of Planned Parenthood. NPR asked him what matters most to him in this election:
“I would say that for the state of Virginia, they are probably not reproductive rights, because I have a little more faith in them and in our leaders,” he said. “So I’d say maybe things like climate change and things like that.”
But it was abortion rights that made her volunteer. And even more galvanizing abortion decisions could be made in the middle of the campaign in the medium term. Next year, the Conservative Supreme Court will decide to ban abortion in Mississippi.