Democrats extended a winning streak in 2023, as abortion rights continues to be a huge and motivating issue for voters.
[Previous: Victory in Ohio: Issue 1 goes down in flames]
November 7, 2023 was a very good night for progressives all over the country. It’s hopeful news looking forward to the presidential election next year.
Democratic governor Andy Beshear easily won reelection in deep-red Kentucky. Democrats in Virginia swept the state legislature, driving a stake through the heart of Republican governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed abortion ban. Democrats widened their majority on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, defeating a Republican who said she had “no idea” if Joe Biden won the 2020 election.
“Moms for Liberty”, the anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-Black, pro-book-banning right-wing group (I can think of a more accurate name for them), lost resoundingly in school board races around the country. Even in traditionally conservative states like Iowa, they fared badly.
Loudoun County, a large and wealthy district in Virginia that’s become an epicenter of the culture war, is a case in point. In 2021, school board meetings degenerated into chaos as right-wing protesters yelled and fearmongered about critical race theory and transgender teenagers.
This year, all nine school board seats were up for election—and liberal candidates won six of them. Despite all the effort that religious conservatives poured into inciting a moral panic, it turns out most parents aren’t on their side.
However, the biggest bright spot was Ohio.
Abortion wins in the Buckeye State
In this cycle, Ohio was the latest front in the battle over abortion. Earlier this year, pro-choice groups put a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights on the ballot. The language of the amendment is broad by design, declaring:
Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on: contraception; fertility treatment; continuing one’s own pregnancy; miscarriage care; and abortion. The State shall not, directly or indirectly, burden, penalize, prohibit, interfere with, or discriminate against either an individual’s voluntary exercise of this right or a person or entity that assists an individual exercising this right.
When polls suggested it would win easily, Republicans responded by trying to change the rules. They scheduled a surprise summer election for a constitutional amendment that would make future amendments harder to pass. In effect, they asked Ohio citizens to vote away their own power.
Ohioans weren’t fooled. They voted down the dirty-trick amendment by a large margin.
This win cleared the way for the pro-choice amendment to go before voters. And last night, it won by a double-digit margin. According to exit polls, it commanded a majority of voters of all genders, races, and ages. It was an almost anticlimactic victory, considering that both sides were clearly expecting this outcome. (Even Sean Hannity glumly admitted that Republicans are out of step with the electorate.)
The pro-choice victory in Ohio voids the state’s current six-week ban. It strengthens the already rock-solid evidence that abortion rights are a winning issue for progressives and a massive incentive for voter turnout.
The question is how Ohio’s Republicans will respond. Ohio has a Republican governor and a heavily gerrymandered conservative legislature. Will they keep trying to thwart the will of the voters, passing nuisance bills to impede abortion rights? Or will they back down now that they have proof that the electorate is fired up against them?
This is an even bigger dilemma for Republicans in other states. They ought to know, if they have any intelligence, that abortion is killing them in general elections—even in places that they’d normally win. The thumping in Ohio ought to look like an oncoming freight train for conservatives in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and other states that will vote on it in 2024.
On the other hand, the Republican base is contemptuous of democracy. They’re demanding more and stricter bans—will of the voters be damned—and they’ll punish candidates who don’t run on that platform. Conservative politicians are caught between these two inexorable truths like a vise, and it’s going to keep squeezing them.