For Republicans, this month’s off-year elections were anything but a success.
The results in gubernatorial and legislative showdowns as well as in some high-profile referendums gave Democrats a big shot of adrenalin while potentially serving as a warning sign for the GOP looking ahead to the 2024 elections for president and control of Congress.
Apparently hurting Republicans for a second straight year at the ballot box was the combustible issue of legalized abortion.
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We do have to talk about abortion,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has been saying since the election results this month.
McDaniel said GOP candidates “are not responding to the lies of the Democrats on abortion. We have to come out and very vocally say where we stand.”
The month’s election results were the latest in a slew of statewide victories for abortion rights since the blockbuster move last year by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn the landmark, nearly half-century-old Roe v. Wade ruling, which had allowed for legalized abortions nationwide.
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The decision moved the divisive issue back to the states. And it’s forced Republicans to play plenty of defense in elections across the country. A party that’s nearly entirely “pro-life” has had to deal with an electorate in which a majority of Americans support at least some form of abortion access.
Democrats made abortion a major part of their messaging in Kentucky’s gubernatorial showdown, in Virginia’s legislative contests, in a state Supreme Court race in battleground Pennsylvania, and in an Ohio referendum on codifying abortion rights. And Democrats chalked up wins in all of those states.
But veteran Republican strategist and Fox News contributor Karl Rove, who masterminded former President George W. Bush’s two White House victories and served as his top White House political adviser, says the effect of abortion on this month’s elections is overblown.
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“Abortion might have helped Democrats sometimes, but the issue is hardly a silver bullet,” Rove wrote last week in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
And taking aim at the political weaknesses of President Biden, Rove said that “as Virginia showed, as long as Mr. Biden is the face of the party, pro-life candidates can make gains on Democratic turf if they frame the abortion issue with care.”
But Democrats see the issue of abortion as a continued “mobilizing” factor to energize their base and attract crucial swing or moderate voters going forward.
Veteran strategist and Democratic National Committee member Maria Cardona pointed to last year’s midterms, in which the Democrats overperformed, and told Fox News that the 2023 results “were similar to what happened in 2022 when everybody was predicting a red wave.”
Looking ahead to next year’s contests, Cardona predicted that abortion “is going to continue to be an incredibly mobilizing issue.”
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Longtime GOP strategist David Kochel noted that abortion remains “a terrible problem” for Republicans.
“They’re out of step with where the country is” on the issue, he said.
Kochel, a veteran of numerous presidential and statewide campaigns in Iowa, acknowledged that Republicans are “not going to win on abortion” and urged GOP candidates to “fight where they can win – on the economy, foreign policy, competence.”
McDaniel, talking to Fox News Digital and other news organizations the night after this month’s elections, said Republicans need to more forcefully push back on Democrat attacks over where they stand on abortion.
“If a lie is up against you with $30 million behind it, and you do not respond, that lie becomes the truth, and that’s the Democrats’ playbook, and our candidates have to respond on TV,” she said.
“As a suburban woman who’s heading the party, we have to talk about abortion,” McDaniel added. “If we do not get up on TV and define ourselves on this issue and allow the Democrats to do it for us, it’s a losing strategy.”
Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.