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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Ballot initiatives become the new abortion battleground

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Good morning, Early Birds. We send our deepest condolences to the families and friends of Rep. Jackie Walorski, Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson. Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

In today’s edition … While Trump voters back his candidates, some aren’t so sure about a 2024 bid, Isaac Arnsdorf and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report … The Trump vs. DeVos scorecard in Michigan … Koch-backed super PAC raises millions, reaches a million … What we're watching: Any movement in Senate Democrats' effort to pass their health care, climate and tax bill … but first …

The campaign

A new roadmap for abortion rights advocates

A Kansas ballot measure was supposed to be the next milestone for an antiabortion movement that has successfully used state legislatures, the courts and state ballot initiatives to roll back access to abortion. 

But it didn't turn out that way. Instead, 59 percent of voters in the conservative Sunflower State on Tuesday rejected activists' attempt to strip abortion protections from the state constitution.

The setback has buoyed abortion rights advocates who are now embracing ballot initiatives as the next battleground in the fight over access to abortion after the Supreme Court earlier this year overturned the constitutional protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.

  • In some states this means defeating ballot initiatives put forward by conservatives, while in others it means pushing for the adoption of abortion access protections in state constitutions.

“We see a lot of promise in appealing directly to voters on the issue who are so clearly with us on the issues as we saw in Kansas,” said Carolyn Ehrlich, political strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Has the tide has turned?

Since the Roe decision in 1973, the antiabortion movement has run a campaign of ballot initiatives in states that attempted to chip away at abortion rights with mixed results.

Hopes were high that the Kansas ballot initiative would be the next success story after the movement's long-sought victory at the Supreme Court. Now there are worries.

  • “This is really a wake-up call for the pro-life movement,” said Mallory Carroll, a spokeswoman for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which backed the Kansas ballot measure.

Kentucky will vote in November on a constitutional amendment to clarify that it does not protect abortion rights. (Abortion is already illegal in the state.)

“This is huge,” Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said in a statement. “The results in Kansas are proof once again that abortion rights is a winning issue.”

When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked by The Early how the Kansas outcome would inform the ballot measure in his home state of Kentucky in November, he said, “Well, that's an interesting development. We'll see how it turns out.”

The abortion rights ballot initiatives

Since 1970, 85 percent of the abortion related measures on state ballots have been proposed by antiabortion groups. Of those, voters approved just one-quarter of them, according to data compiled by Ballotpedia. Abortion rights groups have been far less active over that period, but far more successful when they do play, winning 57 percent of their ballot initiatives.

For the first time since 1992, reproductive rights groups are taking their fight directly to voters with ballot measures in Michigan, Vermont and California

  • Michigan will be the next big battleground with a constitutional amendment expected to be before voters in November. It was put forward by abortion rights groups that began organizing last fall when the Supreme Court took up Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. After a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe in that case was published by Politico in May, the groups got to work and turned in nearly twice as many of the 425,059 signatures needed to apply for a referendum.

The momentum grew after the Supreme Court decision in June because people were “angry and it showed them that something they did not believe was possible” could happen, said Nicole Wells Stallworth, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan

And Democrats say the abortion measure could help Democrats up and down the ballot in Michigan and beyond. 

  • “Some of the discussion has been, how do you translate a constitutional provision vote with individual candidates?,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who heads up the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “But in our Senate races — you'll see this in Michigan governor's race, too — there's a really clear difference between where the Democratic candidates are and where the Republicans who have taken very extreme views.”

After the Dobbs decision, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and the Democratic-controlled state legislature worked to put a ballot initiative before voters in November that would guarantee the right to abortion.

But what Kansas has shown is that not only can abortion rights advocates win ballot measures, but they can do so in purple and red states, too. 

“There's real potential for it to be a road map for protecting reproduction freedom in states where the legislature is a roadblock to progress,” Ehrlich with the ACLU said. 

Ballot initiatives of the future

Abortion rights groups are looking beyond this year's elections.

“Regaining some protections state by state won't happen in one political cycle. It's a multi-decade effort and we're committed to it,” said Sarah Standiford, national campaign director for Planned Parenthood

Abortion rights advocates tried to get a measure on the ballot in Arizona after the draft Supreme Court decision leaked in May but ran out of time.

Shasta McManus, the treasurer for Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom, the group behind the ballot measure, said the results in Kansas made her confident voters would approve such a measure in 2024.

  • “If we just would’ve had a couple more weeks, we would have been on the ballot,” she said. “And if we would’ve been on the ballot, I think absolutely we would have seen the same kind of response that Kansas did.”

In Ohio, which has a six-week abortion ban, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, the Democratic nominee for governor, has pledged to lead an effort to pass a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights.

That’s not possible in many other states that have put abortion restrictions in place or where they’re under threat because they don’t allow voters to collect signatures to get ballot measures on the ballot. Kansas and other states allow lawmakers to put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot but not voters.

Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania are working to put a proposed amendment up for a vote that could allow them to pass an abortion ban as soon as next year.

Abortion rights advocates are already planning a campaign to defeat such an amendment if it makes the ballot, said Dayle Steinberg, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Southeast Pennsylvania.

“I expect that Pennsylvanians are gonna show up in big numbers like we saw in Kansas,” she said.

More abortion coverage from The Post: 

Trump voters back his candidates. Some aren’t so sure about a 2024 bid.

A cloudy future: “Tuesday’s primary results across the country were unquestionably a show of strength for Trump’s enduring influence over the GOP,” our colleagues Isaac Arnsdorf and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez write from Arizona. “His preferred candidates, all of whom embrace his false claims of mass fraud in the 2020 election, led up and down the ballot in Arizona.”

  • “But interviews with dozens of Republican primary voters here suggest that voting for Trump’s midterm candidates is not the same as eagerly wishing to vote for Trump himself again. While these voters continued to express support for Trump and his agenda, many doubted he would be the best nominee for president and showed openness to potential rivals, most often Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • “There’s too many people that hate him,” said Charles Recker, a Republican from Phoenix who still likes Trump but doesn’t want him to run again. “You have other candidates that are similar to him but actually work with people a lot better,” he said, suggesting DeSantis or former UN ambassador Nikki Haley.
  • “Such views align with recent polls and focus groups suggesting softening enthusiasm for a third Trump campaign. A New York Times-Siena College poll in July found 49 percent of Republican primary voters said they would support Trump again. In focus groups since the Jan. 6 committee hearings began, anti-Trump Republican strategist Sarah Longwell observed a distinct drop-off in Trump’s support, with no participants wanting him to run again, after dozens of panels where half the people supported Trump and the rest were open to it.”

The Trump vs. DeVos scorecard in Michigan

Trump endorsed 11 state legislative candidates in Michigan, many of them running in the primary against Republicans backed by Betsy DeVos, his former education secretary, and members of her influential family.

DeVos came out ahead on Tuesday. 

In the six races in which Trump-endorsed candidates faced off against candidates endorsed by the DeVos-funded Michigan Freedom Network, only two of Trump candidates won: Jonathan Lindsey, who beat state Sen. Kim LaSata, and Rachelle Smit, who won the Republican nomination for an open state House seat.

County First Michigan, meanwhile, a PAC started by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), worked to defeat Trump-endorsed candidates in five contested races by encouraging Democrats and independents to vote against them. The PAC prevailed in three of them.

Koch-backed super PAC raises millions, reaches a million

AFP Action, the super PAC of a conservative, libertarian-leaning Koch network, has been extremely active this midterm cycle, knocking on more than a million doors on behalf of 272 candidates across the country. 

AFP Action raised $22 million so far this cycle, mostly from companies, according to OpenSecrets. But AFP Action, launched by the Republican megadonors Charles and the late David Koch in 2018, is using the organization's highly coveted data to connect with voters on behalf of like-minded, free-market candidates. 

While the vast majority of their endorsements are for state legislature seats, many of their state-wide and national endorsements are on the opposite site of Trump's endorsed-candidates. 

The group endorsed Eric Schmitt, who just won the nomination for a Missouri Senate seat (well, he might have been endorsed by Trump since his name is Eric), but they also endorsed former vice president Mike Pence-endorsed Karrin Taylor Robson, who is running behind Trump-endorsed Kari Lake for Arizona Republican gubernatorial nomination.

What we're watching

Still watching Senate Democrats' effort to pass their health care, climate and tax bill. Senators continue to go over the proposal with the parliamentarian to make sure it complies with chamber rules for the fast-track budget reconciliation process. And Democratic leaders are working with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to get her to yes on the bill. 

Meanwhile, President Biden will hold a roundtable with “business and labor leaders” to discuss the bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act. 

And Republicans and their allies are increasing the pressure on Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), urging him to walk away from the deal he struck on the bill with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). A group of coal groups released a joint statement slamming Manchin for backing the proposal, according to WVNews

The Media

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