With ad spending tilted against them, anti-abortion group launches 2012 push

September 16, 2012

AUL Action's "Vote for Life" initiative aims to mobilize voters who oppose abortion rights.

Campaigns and outside groups have spent $16.7 million on abortion-related advertising during the 2012 cycle, two-thirds of that coming from abortion-rights supporters.

Americans United for Life is quietly launching a voter mobilization initiative meant to tip the scales in the other direction, and generate activism among anti-abortion voters.

It began Thursday with Team Life, a campaign meant to mobilize antiabortion voters in battleground states. The effort - run by the country's oldest antiabortion group - will ramp up over the coming weeks, with paid advertising, get-out-the vote drives and online networking tools.

"We did a virtual march for life a couple of years ago, where we signed up over 80,000 people in the space of 10 days," said Americans United for Life Action President Charmaine Yoest. "It gave people a sense of community and a place to stand up and be counted on to take action. As we get closer and closer to the election, this is our main focus."

The Life Counts campaign will mobilize voters in certain areas where the larger Republican party has been hesitant to tread. According to data from Kantar/CMAG, a media tracking firm, the Obama campaign had put just over $10 million toward abortion-related ads. The Romney campaign, in contrast, had spent $953,000.

Yoest says that's understandable in a campaign where "the biggest issue is obviously the economy." That does not, however,  preclude an advocacy group like hers from "augmenting" the message on abortion.

"We augment [the Romney campaign's] messaging by pointing out that there are common sense ways that the American people want to approach abortion," Yoest said. "When you ask people about whether they oppose government funding of abortion, that's an issue where 80 percent are on our side. Our messaging comes alongside the economic messaging that you see coming from the campaign."

AUL Action will also focus on one Senate race that national Republican committees have pulled out of: Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) challenge for Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D) Senate seat. The National Republican Congressional Campaign pulled advertising support for Akin in August, after his controversial remarks about "legitimate rape" rarely leading to pregnancy.

Yoest framed AUL Action's participation in that race not as much in terms of Akin, but rather the Democratic incumbent she hopes to unseat.

"We're targeting Claire McCaskill," she says. "We want people to know what a radical record Claire has. She's part of the pattern of this Senate's leadership that has passed Obamacare, which is the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade. We'll be helping Missourians understand her record. It's a really natural fit for us."

The Team Life campaign had a soft-launch this week. As of Friday afternoon, about 650 individuals had registered for the initiative. Yoest expects that number to grow as they reach out to their mailing list and begin to roll out "strategic partnerships" with like-minded groups. Paid advertising, both traditional and online, will soon follow.

The advertising and outreach will start with voter registration, encouraging members to get neighbors and family members signed up. It will then shift to focus on education, looking at both the President Obama's record on abortion issues, alongside those of the 12 incumbent, Democratic senators targeted by the campaign.

Yoest declined to give a budget for the Team Life campaign, but did say it was the group's "main focus" leading up to the election.

"One fact we want to underscore in this campaign is that the majority of Americans are pro-life," Yoest said. "This is a fun and kind of happy way that voters can take a stand for life. We want to create a community, and that's what we see this as."

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Dylan Matthews | September 16, 2012