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How the Invisible Army of Abortion Rights Voters Can Crush Republicans’ Majority Dreams

The right’s culture-war excesses have suddenly put Democrats on the front foot going into the midterm elections.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Is an unseen army of women and young voters about to rescue the Democrats? It’s risky to predict outcomes, but it sure looks like the troops are in formation.

Item: News5 Cleveland reported in late August that Ohio has seen some 90,000 new registrants since the Dobbs decision. That tracks with a New York Times finding that female voter registrations are up 6.4 percent in the state since Justice Samuel Alito’s draft decision in Dobbs leaked to Politico.

Item: KDKA Pittsburgh reported recently that the voter registration gender gap in Pennsylvania is 12 points, three times the normal gap. More than 60 percent of these registrants are under 25.

Item: Over the weekend, the Houston Chronicle reported that registration is “surging” in Texas among young voters. “It’s not that we’re not seeing a surge from women but that in Texas, we’re somewhat uniquely also seeing a surge from men, particularly younger, more progressive men, who are matching the surge from women,” said Tom Bonier, the CEO of TargetSmart, which works with Democratic candidates.

I could go on. The biggest surge of all was in Kansas, and we saw the results of that: a massive win for abortion rights advocates as voters rejected a referendum that would have allowed the state legislature to tighten abortion laws. Female registrations have even surged in Idaho, where they’re less likely to make a difference given how deep red the state is. On the other hand, it’s a small state, so not many votes are needed to flip a statewide result. And if it could happen in Kansas …

Kansas raises a question I’ve been wondering about—and worrying about—since that vote took place. It’s one thing for women to turn out to vote to protect abortion rights. Even a substantial number of Republican women would cast that vote. But voting for Democrats is another thing entirely: a heavier lift for some independent and Republican women. However, if new voters are registering by the tens of thousands, maybe that won’t matter so much.

Democrats in many states are on the attack with tough abortion rights ads. The New York Times reported in mid-August that Democratic candidates were spending about eight times the money on abortion-related advertising that Republican candidates are spending.

Republicans are responding in their time-honored fashion: by lying. They know that most of their positions are unpopular, certainly including their extremist anti-abortion stance, so they’re trying to sound “reasonable” while painting Democratic opponents as extremists. In New Mexico, for example, Republican Mark Ronchetti, a former TV weatherman challenging Democratic incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham, recently aired an ad in which he calls Lujan Grisham “extreme” and says: “I’m personally pro-life, but I believe we can all come together on a policy that reflects our shared values.” When Ronchetti ran for Senate two years ago, his website said, “Life should be protected—at all stages.” Most notoriously, extremist Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters scrubbed starkly anti-abortion language from his website.

What does all this mean? Well, nobody wants to speak too confidently about the Democrats’ chances in November. We all know that the incumbent party tends to lose 25 or so seats in a first-term midterm election. And there’s still inflation to worry about, though in recent weeks it’s seemed to be receding, with gas prices well down from their midsummer highs. And there’s MAGA rage, which only seems to intensify as Donald Trump looks guiltier and guiltier.

But here’s what could happen: The voter rolls in swing states could swell by, oh, 5 percent, let’s say, and that increase would consist almost entirely of voters pissed off by Dobbs. In Ohio, 5 percent would equal about 388,000 new voters. In Pennsylvania, it would mean 436,000. In Florida, 714,000. Almost all of them pro-choice. And since they bothered to register—a lot of them for the first time, presumably—it seems likely that they’ll bother to vote.

In addition, your typical congressional district has roughly 400,000 to 450,000 registered voters. Numerous congressional races in recent years have been decided by a few thousand votes. Add 20,000 or so pro-choice voters to a competitive, purple district, and the pro-choice candidate suddenly gains a huge advantage. And my guesstimate of 5 percent will be conservative for some states.

In other words, what could happen is that nearly every close House race could break in the Democrats’ direction. FiveThirtyEight estimates that the GOP is about 75 percent likely to capture the House. After all, it needs only five seats. But there are 10 tossup seats, 16 that lean Democratic, and eight that lean Republican. That’s 34 close contests, and they tend to be in bluish states. Some are held by Republicans—there are two endangered GOP incumbents in California, for example.

It might not be the likeliest outcome, but it no longer looks implausible. Elections tend to break in one direction or another. The Democratic Party has to keep working to make sure that the people who were angry when Dobbs came down stay angry through November 8.

Republicans used to call themselves the party of normal Americans. They still pretend to be so. But they are not. They are the party of extremist violence. They are the party of authoritarianism. They are the party of the Big Lie. And they are the party of forcing a 12-year-old girl who was raped to deliver that baby and the party of taking away a core right that women have had for a half-century. They will pay a price for this. The army of real normal Americans is coming for them.