WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are pouring an unprecedented amount of money into ads related to abortion rights, underscoring the importance of the party’s message in the final weeks before the November midterm elections.
With the most intense campaign period just beginning, Democrats have already invested more than an estimated $124 million this year in television advertising referring to abortion. That’s more than twice as much money as the Democrats’ next top song this year, “character,” and nearly 20 times more than the Democrats spent on abortion-related ads in the 2018 midterms.
The estimated spending figures, based on an Associated Press analysis of data from the unbiased research firm AdImpact, reveal the extent to which Democrats are putting their majority in Congress and key governors on one issue. That’s true even if a large majority of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction and the economy is in bad shape.
The ad numbers also show how sharply Republicans have been pushing against abortion in their paid ads in the weeks since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a decades-long target of the GOP. (The AdImpact data records each time a campaign ad is broadcast on TV and estimates the costs associated with those broadcasts.)
Since the Supreme Court’s decision in June to repeal the constitutional right to abortion, about $1 in every $3 of television advertising spent by Democrats and their allies has focused on abortion. Much of the spending is set to attack Republicans on the ballot this fall who have long opposed abortion rights and are currently involved in a state-by-state effort to restrict abortion rights or ban the practice altogether.
Democrats’ unprecedented investment in abortion coverage on TV this year through Sept. 18 is greater than the Republican Party’s combined national investment in advertising related to economics, crime and immigration.
“With less than 60 days until the election, we refuse to watch as out of step, anti-choice Republicans try to control our bodies and our future while lying to voters about it,” said Melissa Williams, executive director of Women Vote!, an outside group that has invested more than $4 million in abortion ads this year. “We make sure every voter knows the candidates who are for and against them in protecting this right.”
The Democrats’ overwhelming focus on abortion is perhaps not surprising given the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the wave of Republican-backed abortion bans in more than a dozen states that followed. But the strategy still marks a sharp departure from the party’s focus in recent years on former President Donald Trump and other issues like the economy, education and health care.
For example, in the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats spent less than $6 million on abortion-related television advertising. That compares to the $51 million Democrats have invested in Trump-related advertising, $49 million in health care and $46 million in education, according to AdImpact.
Jessica Floyd, president of American Bridge, a Democrat-affiliated super-PAC that promotes abortion in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, described abortion as “the ultimate health problem” for women and families. The Supreme Court decision and subsequent Republican push to ban abortion in some states, she said, represent “an actual curbing of rights, which is unprecedented.”
“It’s a very powerful motivator,” Floyd said. “It goes against everything we know voters care about — especially the voters who will decide this election.”
Television advertising data shows that Republicans have also invested millions of dollars in abortion messages. But most of those ads ran this spring and summer during the first phase of the campaign, when Republican candidates touted their anti-abortion credentials. The number of Republican ads that refer to abortion has been dropping every month since May.
As the calendar shifts to the fall general election, the gap between Democratic and Republican spending on abortion ads has widened even further. For example, so far this month Democrats and their allies have aired more than 68,000 ads on TV referring to abortion — more than 15 times the number of their Republican counterparts. They have spent an estimated $31 million on such ads compared to the GOP’s spending of just $2.8 million. That’s even as Republican leaders like GOP Chair Ronna McDaniel acknowledged in a recent interview that her party cannot allow Democrats to control the abortion narrative.
“It’s very clear that that’s all Democrats have to run on, right? They can’t run on a good economy. They can’t run on a safer community. They can’t run on education,” McDaniel said. ‘So what are they going to do? They’re going to be all about abortion, which means we have to talk about it like the Republicans do.”
sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., annoyed Republican leaders last week by proposing a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It was the kind of legislation that Republicans on Capitol Hill have supported for years. But this year, just eight weeks before Election Day, it was seen as an unwelcome reminder to voters that some Republicans in Congress hope to introduce national abortion restrictions if given the chance.
McDaniel encouraged Republicans to have an abortion instead, pointing to Democrats’ opposition to restrictions, a position she says is out of step with most voters. And while Republican leaders and candidates are increasingly making that argument when asked, the party has yet to devote significant resources to the issue in the one place most voters hear from GOP candidates: their screens.
Democrats, meanwhile, have released a new wave of abortion-related ads targeting Republican candidates statewide in North Carolina, New Mexico, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado and Florida. Abortion is also a regular topic for state legislature candidates in competitive districts in California and Florida. Republican House candidates are under attack for opposing abortion rights in congressional districts in upstate New York, Connecticut, Michigan and Indiana.
In some cases, Republican candidates are hit by multiple abortion-related ads running simultaneously on their local television stations.
One of them is Republican nominee for governor of Wisconsin, Tim Michels, who has so far this month been the focus of ads for abortion-related attacks by three groups, including his opponent, Democratic Chief Executive Tony Evers. In each of the three ad campaigns, Michels affirms that he is against abortion rights, even in cases of rape or incest.
“Is that the divisive radical you want as governor?” asks the narrator in an ad from the Evers campaign.
Michels’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s much the same in Nevada, where Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the nation. This month, at least two anti-Republican groups and the Cortez Masto campaign itself ran abortion-related ads against GOP challenger Adam Laxalt.
Cortez Masto’s campaign featured a doctor who said Republicans are trying to interfere in decisions about women’s health care.
“For doctors like me, our job is to make sure women have the support they need to make decisions that are right for them. But Adam Laxalt disagrees,” the doctor said in an ad.
In an op-ed last month, Laxalt tried to back down against the flood of abortion-related advertising against him.
“Cortez Masto and her allies spend millions of dollars on campaign ads to make you believe a lie that as a U.S. Senator I would support a federal abortion ban, or that I am somehow ‘anti-woman’ because I appreciate, support and defend life at all stages,” he wrote. “All my adult life I’ve believed that the Supreme Court should return the issue of abortion to the people and let them decide the issue state by state.”
Abortion has so far been a major focus of the Nevada Senate race, but in other elections there has been much more advertising for abortion.
The AdImpact data shows that most of the TV ads aired this year referring to abortion took place in the Senate races in Pennsylvania and Arizona, followed by gubernatorial races for Illinois, Georgia and Wisconsin. (The now-defeated Kansas constitutional amendment ballot, though a unique election, also saw some of the most ads.)
Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia, Stacey Abrams, ran an ad campaign from August to September to attack Republican government Brian Kemp, using the words of several women speaking directly into the camera.
“He supports a total ban, even if I am raped, a victim of incest,” the women say. Another woman nearly cries when she says, “Under Kemp, I could be examined and locked up for miscarriage.”
Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell argued against the accuracy of the ads, accusing that “Stacey Abrams and her campaign are lying in an effort to scare people and distract voters from her dangerous agenda for Georgia.”
Democrats in several swing states are aggressively leaning towards opposition from some leading Republicans to abortion exceptions in cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother at risk.
Cliff Schecter, a veteran Democratic ad creator and founder of Blue Amp Strategies, said Democrats are “reporting much better on abortion” this year.
“It’s not just liberal women anymore, or even moderate women. It’s conservative women who are shocked by this,” Schecter said of the new abortion restrictions being introduced across the country. “It would be malpractice not to focus on it.”
Peoples reported from New York.