Democrats eager to tie anti-abortion bill around DeSantis in swing states

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is speeding toward long-term political risks as he runs to the right on abortion — and opponents are ready to pounce.

The putative presidential hopeful is poised to sign a six-week ban that the Florida state legislature passed Thursday, and Democrats, abortion-rights groups and fundraisers who oppose the measure are eager to use it to tarnish his White House ambitions.

DeSantis is banking on support in the primary from anti-abortion voters, particularly those angry at Donald Trump. The former president faced a backlash from some conservatives when he complained that the party’s far-right position on abortion hurt the GOP in last year’s midterm election.

But a six-week ban pushes the outer boundary of anti-abortion rights proposals. And it could spell trouble for DeSantis among independents and suburban voters in a general election, if he makes it that far.

“We’re going to make him own this, and his agenda, everywhere he goes,” said a national Democratic operative granted anonymity to discuss party strategy. “Goes to Michigan? Abortion ban. Goes to Ohio next week? Abortion ban. And that will take different forms but we’ll hang this incredibly toxic abortion ban and his agenda around his neck with different tactics.”

The operative added that this is one of many points on which to attack DeSantis who has taken several stances on social issues that Democrats believe won’t sit well with swing voters.

A spokesman for DeSantis declined to comment for this story. But Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told POLITICO that a six-week ban isn’t the millstone Democrats believe.

“Consensus is building across the country that once there’s a heartbeat, it’s a human being,” he said. “So the governor isn’t out of step at all. … In fact, it bolsters his standing.”

Though DeSantis has not formally entered the presidential race, the campaign to tie him to a six-week ban is already beginning, according to interviews with more than a dozen people from several battleground states.

Nascent plans include attack ads, knocking on doors in swing states where polling shows abortion has become a more prominent election issue since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, and registering voters throughout the country.

“Planned Parenthood advocacy and political organizations will make sure everyone knows his dangerous and radical record on abortion rights,” Jenny Lawson, vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund said in a statement. The organization is considering door-to-door canvassing, digital ads and direct mail, Olivia Cappello, a spokesperson said in a recent interview.

The Planned Parenthood network has poured millions of dollars into voter outreach in response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last year. In the leadup to the decision, arms of the organization announced a $16 million ad campaign, and spent more than $50 million on the 2022 midterms a few months later.

The head of the much smaller Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida organization, who rallied against the ban in the state capital this week, has also promised an aggressive voter outreach effort.

“We have all vowed to go knock on doors and go to other states to let people know what DeSantis has done to Florida,” Sarah Parker of the organization said in an interview. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we’ll mobilize.”

DeSantis does not share that problem. A PAC supporting his likely candidacy boasted of raising $30 million several weeks ago, and he’s proven himself a prodigious fundraiser in the past — a benefit that’s helped him cement himself as the leading Republican alternative to Trump.

And for many on the right, particularly those miffed at Trump, DeSantis’ support of a six-week ban is proof that he is a more reliable ally in their fight to end the procedure nationwide.

“I’ve known him since he hit the ground in Congress,” Perkins said. “He, from the start, has been making very solid decisions on a host of policy issues, from religious freedom to economic issues.”

Florida’s six-week abortion ban received final legislative approval as the issue of abortion access once again dominates the headlines. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday agreed to allow the abortion pill mifepristone to remain on the market but with restrictions that will hamper access to millions of people unless the Supreme Court intervenes.

Florida now joins at least 12 other states — including Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky and Louisiana — that have approved bans on abortions after six weeks, a point at which many people don’t yet know they’re pregnant.

“This bill is atrocious,” said Ryan Stitzlein, NARAL’s senior national political director. “This issue may ignite a small part of their primary base but it’s deeply unpopular with voters in this country. … We’re activating our more than 4 million members across the country. They’ll be making calls, writing, knocking on doors.”

Democrats’ confidence is rooted in both public polling that demonstrates little bipartisan appetite for such strict abortion bans as well as recent case studies. Five months after Republicans failed to deliver widespread victories in the midterm elections, a Democratic candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court defeated her opponent by 11 points in a race centered around abortion. Even moderate Republicans crossed the aisle to donate to her winning campaign.

“You should ignore national polls because that’s not how people win a presidential nomination. They win by winning each state and if you look at the bellwether states that Trump or DeSantis need to win, they have major, major problems on the issue of abortion,” political fundraiser Patrick Guarasci — who worked on the winning campaign of Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz — said in an interview this week. “They’re being held hostage by their donors and their far-right-wing extremists.”

Guarasci said abortion ranked as the top issue in the recent election.

“Trump or DeSantis will have a hard time winning a presidential elections without some kind of answer to that question,” he added.

Several dozen opponents have been staging demonstrations in Tallahassee, even getting arrested in acts of civil disobedience. Though they knew they stood no chance of changing the course of the bill, they continued to gather as recently as Wednesday night to denounce it. State Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried warned DeSantis will “will not stop with Florida.”

DeSantis isn’t the only Republican who will face pressure for his stance on abortion. Democrats are certain to note that Trump appointed the justices who overturned Roe. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), on his second day of campaigning since announcing a presidential exploratory committee, pivoted, deflected and avoided specifics when repeatedly pressed on where he stood on federal abortion restrictions.

But unlike Trump or Scott, DeSantis will have signed legislation limiting access. Democrats don’t intend to let voters forget.

“This man is clearly wrong for Michigan,” Michigan Lieutenant Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat, said on a conference call ahead of DeSantis’ recent visit to the state. “But he is also wrong for America. He will be burdened by his anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-reproductive freedom stances.”

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