Josh Shapiro is the Democratic attorney general of Pennsylvania and is running for the office of the next governor. He has no opposition in the primary, a loaded campaign chest, and a record to back up his promises on the campaign trail.
He has also been vocal about his support of abortion rights. He often and loudly speaks out about his record as the top state law enforcement officer in protecting women's reproductive right and the actions he took to combat restrictive abortion laws in other countries.
Although it's risky, it could be a key to victory in November.
In a state that has a high percentage of Catholic voters, Shapiro's focus on a historically divisive culture-war issue is a big political risk. Republican voters are more likely to be energized by abortion than Democratic ones. Democrats in the Upper Midwest have had great success focusing on the kitchen and not social issues. (Last month, the likely Democratic Senate Candidate in Ohio suggested that he would prefer not to discuss his support for abortion rights as voters care more about economic issues).
However, Shapiro's early and sharp focus on abortion rights is likely to help his campaign, according to strategists and Pennsylvania politics watchers. His campaign gives a glimpse at what could be the nation’s shifting abortion politics.
Federal abortion rights are being questioned like never before. The Supreme Court appears likely to reverse Roe v. Wade or to completely strike it down. In December, the court appeared ready to support a Mississippi law which would ban nearly all abortions after 15 week gestation. This would be a drastic break from 50 years worth of rulings.
If this happened, the states would be able to control when and under what circumstances abortion is legal. And in Pennsylvania, where the Republican-controlled legislature has passed several restrictive reproductive measures in recent years, a governor's veto is the only thing preventing the state from enacting harsh anti-abortion laws.
All this could help Shapiro overcome his historical tendency to lose big midterm elections due to the president's party losing large numbers. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates this race as a toss-up.
According to strategists, ex-legislators and Pennsylvania politics watchers, this could indicate that Democrats could benefit from a greater focus on abortion rights, which is a popular motivator for Republican voters.
"If I were a Democrat running for office in 2022, I would be concerned about the turnout. "I'd be looking to sound alarm on this issue because it's an issue for Democrats and Progressives, and Josh Shapiro might worry, with good reason that they don't come out," stated former Democratic governor. Ed Rendell.
He said, "Assuming that the Supreme Court rules in Mississippi in a manner that severely restricts abortion rights or even tosses Roe,"
Strategy is not without risks -- it's a gamble
Pennsylvania has been a state where abortion is a major issue for Democrats. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) has described himself as a "prolife Democrat" even though he voted for many bills that support abortion rights during his three terms in Congress, including the one that codified rights into federal law.
Conor Lamb, a leading Democratic candidate to replace Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), has stated that he holds pro-life views, but has repeatedly voted in support of protecting the right to abortion. Like approximately 25% of the state's population, both men are Catholic.
According to a Franklin & Marshall College survey, 53 percent of Pennsylvania voters believe that abortion should only be legal in certain situations. One third of those polled said that it should be legal in all cases, while thirteen percent believed it should not be. Pennsylvania has a higher support for abortion than the national average. An NBC News poll from September revealed that 54% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or almost all cases. Only 44% said it should be illegal in most or all cases.
As attorney general, Shapiro has consistently stood firm in support of expanding or protecting abortion rights. As attorney general, Shapiro has repeatedly stood firm in support of expanding or protecting abortion rights. He's mentioned support many times, tweeting, and saying at Events that "abortion IS health care".
This has drawn the ire and resentment of many pro-life groups who have taken aggressive steps to oppose his campaign. In an effort to turn his position against him, the Susan B. Anthony List, a non-profit that seeks to end abortion in America, has already promised to dispatch volunteers across the state to reach 500,000 voters.
This early pushback shows how dangerous it is for Shapiro to press on such divisive issues, especially early in the campaign.
It's a puzzle that both Republicans and observers in his party have been puzzled by. It seems to be part of a strategy to get the base going, but given his lack of competition in the primary it feels, perhaps, a little unnecessary to do that at this stage," stated Vince Galko, a GOP strategist who has been working in Pennsylvania politics for over 20 years. It's a gamble for Pennsylvania.
Galko stated that the issue would still be an energizer to Republican voters in Pennsylvania and nationally. This could mean it could backfire or neutralize Shapiro’s approach.
He said, "It cuts both way," because at some point you're starting to fire up both your bases.
Shapiro said that he doesn't worry about political consequences of speaking so loudly on abortion rights.
In an interview with NBC News last month, he stated that "The reason why I talk about this as often as I do it is because the stakes couldn’t be higher." "Who we elect in Pennsylvania as our next governor will literally determine whether or not a woman's rights to choose continue to exist in our commonwealth."
He stated that if Pennsylvanians wanted to retain the right to choose, they would need to veto a pro-choice Democrat.
"All observers know that we cannot rely on the courts for protection of reproductive rights. Governors have the final say in whether they veto extremist legislation my opponents sign to protect women's rights to choose.
Proponents of abortion rights cited a few Democratic candidates whose focus on the issue was key to their victory. Many cited Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.'s decision to take offense on the issue of abortion rights as the reason he won tight re-election races in 2020. In a tight race, Peters shareda heartbreaking story about his wife, who was four months pregnant and who was denied the procedure in the beginning. The move was deemed to have helped Peters narrowly edge John James (his pro-life opponent).
An increase in turnout during a difficult midterm year
Pennsylvania's current law allows abortions up to the 24th weeks of pregnancy. In recent years, at least six bills were introduced by Republican legislators to limit abortion access. The incumbent Democratic Governor. In-place Democratic Gov. Republican legislators have introduced bills to prohibit state funding for health care entities that provide abortion services,and amend the state constitution to make it clear that abortion is not a constitutional right.
Many of the dozen Republican candidates who are vying to be the party’s nominee have stated that they would sign such bills into legislation.
If the Supreme Court rules against abortion rights in Mississippi this summer, restrictive abortion laws could be put into effect in Pennsylvania by a Republican administration.
Kristin Ford, head of research and communications at NARAL Pro-Choice America, stated that Pennsylvania is the only state that can prevent a Texas-style ban on abortion.
This reality means that Shapiro's aggressive position on the issue will likely get Democratic voters to vote at higher levels than usual midterm cycles, strategists have said.
It seems that it is a part of his strategy to increase turnout. David Dix, a political strategist who works alongside candidates from both parties, said, "Get in front of it, the ruling. Drum up the base vote. It's one that can fickle in midterm cycles."
Rendell added, "A serious threat against abortion rights will move it the needle."
He said, "Josh is aware of the need to get Democratic voters engaged and energized."