Five weeks after Election Day, in December. 12, Two other groups of women met in Phoenix to discuss how they voted.
They were a mix of unaffiliated, independent and Republican voters, all of whom split their ticket between Democrats and Republicans, voted for a Libertarian candidate, or left at least one race blank on their ballot. His home county of Maricopa, one of the nation’s fastest growing, voted Democratic in a 2020 presidential race for the first time in decades.
Women were frustrated and embarrassed by the election. They described Trump as a “central and unwanted figure,” while others largely saw Biden as a non-factor they didn’t blame for inflation or problems on the southern border.
But when it came to abortion, it got personal: When the moderator asked if the women themselves or someone they knew had a history of unplanned pregnancy or abortion, every hand in the room shot up.
For them, it wasn’t just a medical procedure. “It’s about control, control of women and the suppression of women,” said one independent voter.
“It’s a slippery slope,” said another, a Republican. “If they ask for control here, where does it end?”
“All single women [who] has been in a relationship has experienced the moment of “arriving late,” said Jessica Pacheco, an Arizona-based Republican strategist. “All women can relate to that, but it’s an intangible that’s hard to explain to men.”
The women were brought together by GOP strategists trying to sort out what happens in 2022. The focus groups, described in a memo obtained by POLITICO, were conducted by Republican pollster Nicole McCleskey, and represent likely the first post-election data on how it shaped abortion. change the decisions of women voters in a suburban county in a battleground state.
“Apart from Trump,” the note said, “abortion was the central issue of the campaign.” What women “considered extreme positions on abortion,” plus Trump’s “influence,” she said, “caused Republican candidates to ignore many of these women, including women who consider themselves pro -life”.
The document pointed to some success stories, including Republican Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee and Maricopa County Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. But he was blunt in his assessment that Republican candidates Blake Masters for Senate and Kari Lake for governor were “caricatures of the extreme Republicans of this election according to these women.”
Masters, who challenged Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), backtracked on his position on abortion during the general election, deleting “I am 100% pro-life” from his campaign website. Lake, who lost to Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs, struggled to precisely define her position.
“Gone are the days when you can say, ‘I’m pro-life,’ ‘I’m pro-choice,’ and leave it at that. Because these labels are confusing, they mean different things to different people.” , Pacheco said. “To win, you have to go through your values and what the issue means to you.”
without Roe, Republicans now face a series of existential questions heading into 2024: Do they unify around a national abortion ban, like Graham’s bill? Are anti-abortion activists pushing for even tighter restrictions at the federal level? Or do they let the candidates decide their own positions?
An open presidential primary could help define the contours of the party’s position. But some GOP operatives argue that it might be better to let this play out race by race, so candidates can adjust based on their personal beliefs and the values of their particular state or district.
Others say Republicans need to swing the issue to Democrats by arguing that abortion with few or no limits is the extreme position.
At the same time, Republicans privately acknowledge that there is a deep unease about addressing this issue, in part because it touches on deeply personal, often religious, beliefs.
“I think some of my male peers didn’t see that and don’t see that [abortion] as an important factor [in 2022]but I think when the campaigns had women in theirs [campaign] teams, women at the table, I think those candidates handled and sent the issue better,” said Amanda Iovino, a Republican pollster who worked on Youngkin’s 2021 campaign. She cited other successful anti-rights candidates ‘ abortion, including Rep.-elect Jen Kiggans (R-Va.) and Nevada Gov.-elect Joe Lombardo, as well as Youngkin.
“They understood that it was going to be a factor and they had to figure out a way to respond,” he continued. “Abortion has always been an Achilles heel for Republicans talking to independent women. It’s very complicated … but with good, well-trained candidates, who know how to talk about it, I think we can still climb the needle”.
Alice Miranda Ollstein and Zach Montellaro contributed to this report.