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How Kansas’ Abortion Vote Matters — and Doesn’t

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Tuesday saw some of the last remaining major party primaries of 2022. The headline event of the night was not a primary, however: It was a Kansas ballot measure, and it was a big win for the right to abortion.

Elections can be important because of their immediate effects or how political actors will interpret them – or both. It was both. The immediate substantive effect is simple: Kansas voters refused to change the state constitution to say there is no right to abortion, so the state will remain a haven for the right to abortion.

And what about the effects of voting on political actors? It’s likely that Democrats, already energized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, will now be even more likely to make reproductive rights a prominent campaign issue this fall. It’s less clear whether Republicans will back down on some of their hardline positions. Republicans who oppose abortion under all circumstances have had the upper hand in the party so far this year. It will be interesting to see if those with more moderate anti-abortion stances go on the offensive.

It’s also hard to say whether the Kansas result predicts much for November. Democrats will point to the magnitude of the victory — nearly 20 percentage points — and the huge turnout, especially among Democrats, in a Republican state. What this means for candidate elections, however, is by no means clear. It’s fair to say that the abortion issue is more likely to help than hurt Democrats this fall, but anything more than that is just a guess.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of party primaries between the candidates on Tuesday. Political scientist Jake Grumbach tweeted a reminder of why these are so important: “The pressure in the primaries (not just the vote but also the dollars, endorsements, etc.), is largely the mechanism by which the shift in party position occurs. This is partly the reason for the party’s recent shift in stance on democracy itself. Moreover, given the importance of political parties in governing, primary elections are where democracy really takes place.

Here are some observations on these elections:

Trump’s influence on Republican politics is now clear. The former president’s power over party voters is nothing out of the ordinary, but his grip on his candidates is strong. Tuesday’s wins and losses provided more detail.

Typically, some of the Trump-endorsed candidates in contested races win, especially when the conditions are right for any high-level endorsement to count — multi-candidate primaries with little candidate differentiation. (Trump is also helping his winning percentage by endorsing many incumbents who don’t have significant challengers, and has also taken last-minute endorsements for solid leaders in the polls.) Yet the candidates continue to beg for his endorsement. , and in practical terms, that means many Republican candidates are repeating Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. Some simply refuse to admit that President Joe Biden was legitimately elected, while others are essentially campaigning against free and fair elections.

Among Republicans, a vote for impeachment remains controversial. Ten House Republicans voted for Trump’s second impeachment a year and a half ago, and three were on the ballot Tuesday. Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan was beaten for renomination, while two in Washington state appear to survive so far, although the vote count is slow. Of the other seven, four chose to retire, one won, one lost and one — perhaps the most important, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — will face Republican voters later this month.

Republicans had a mixed record with potentially terrible candidates. Most notably, disgraced former Governor Eric Greitens lost his bid to become Missouri’s U.S. Senate nominee. State Attorney General Eric Schmitt beat Greitens, who could have lost even in this solidly Republican state, which will now be considered safe for the party. Trump-endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona, Blake Masters, won, so incumbent Senator Mark Kelly will have an advantage in that state, even in what looks like a good Republican year. The Republican contest for governor of Arizona, featuring former Trump-backed news anchor Kari Lake, remains too close to call.

Democrats continue not to be in disarray. Democrats haven’t been able to clear the ground everywhere, but they have in many high-profile races, and they usually make pragmatic choices in hotly contested seats. For the Governor of Arizona, for example, they nominated current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by a margin of more than 3 to 1. There is no guarantee that a Democrat will win in Arizona this year, even if the Republicans present a weak candidate. But Democrats manage to avoid intense nomination battles and emerge united, usually behind strong candidates. That hasn’t always been the case, and it remains to be seen if that makes a difference. But it is certainly a major theme of this cycle for the party.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and politics. A former political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University, he wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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