Ohio Dems betting the bank on abortion ballot measure

Posted on Oct 30, 2023

Politico’s health care newsletter this morning is leading with an item about Ohio Democrats betting the bank on November’s abortion ballot measure:

OHIO DEMS TARGET ABORTION — Democrats up for reelection next year in an increasingly red Ohio are throwing themselves into next month’s ballot fight to enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution, POLITICO’s Alice Miranda Ollstein reports.

And they’re attacking their GOP opponents for defending the state’s six-week abortion ban.

The endangered candidates — and the Ohio Democratic Party fighting for their survival — are betting that supporting abortion rights in 2023 will position them for victory in 2024 as it has for many other swing-state Democrats since Roe v. Wade fell.

Why it matters: The results of the Nov. 7 referendum and the margin of victory will shape strategy and messaging next year not only in Ohio but also in some other battleground states likely to put abortion on their ballots and in Democratic campaigns to hold the White House and win control of Congress.

The campaign will also test whether vulnerable Democrats can turn public support for abortion rights into campaign victories — even if the elections are a year apart.

Turnout has been robust so far. As of Oct. 24, more than 300,000 early ballots have been cast, and the state’s on track to far exceed turnout from the previous off-year election in 2021.

Local Republicans, who’ve watched Ohio tip red in recent cycles, say they’re confident they can defeat the abortion-rights amendment this year and redirect the 2024 conversation to other issues more favorable to the GOP — such as President Joe Biden’s fitness for office, the economy and crime.

With fewer than three weeks before Election Day and early voting underway, Ohio Republican leaders like Gov. Mike DeWine and Senate hopeful and current Secretary of State Frank LaRose are pouring political capital into the fight — the last test before 2024 of whether abortion will continue to hobble the GOP.

Indeed, this is going to be a big fight and a big test of both parties’ organizing strength. In particular, if LaRose loses out, it will make him look weaker heading into next year and his Senate race.

It’s not clear what the chances of that are.

On the one hand, last year, neighboring– and redder– Kentucky defeated a constitutional amendment that would have clarified that “nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

On the other, this isn’t asking people to clarify that the Constitution should be read as pro-life; this is asking them to proactively vote for making Ohio pro-choice, by the state’s Constitution. That’s rather a different matter.

We suspect a not-insignificant-number of Ohioans would rather have the ambiguity and not be forced to take what is literally a life or death position. But it will be interesting to see how this plays out and what it might mean heading into 2024.