To be sure, Democratic fortunes in the fall of 2018 were based on many factors, including the historical fact that the incumbent president’s party – in this case, Donald Trump’s Republicans – generally do poorly in midterms. But the polling was also clear that in tight contests, the Kavanaugh and abortion controversy moved the needle for Democrats.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision Friday, many are wondering if there will be a similar impact this time. While the dominant issue in the domestic political agenda is likely to remain inflation and the economy, polling suggests Americans favor abortion rights.
New England has a number of contested election contests this year, including a race for governor in all six states. And abortion could be a factor in some of the major ones.
Here are four ways the abortion ruling will impact New England politics in this midterm election year and beyond.
1. Dobbs could save New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan’s reelection bid
The most high-profile, most expensive contest in the region this year will likely offer a choice between two candidates who differ widely on abortion.
The incumbent, New Hampshire US Senator Democrat Maggie Hassan, favors abortion rights and has made it one of her core political principles in her 20 years in politics. The five top Republicans running in a primary for the right to face her this fall all reiterated during a debate Monday night that they were against abortion rights.
Hassan won the seat in 2016 by only 1,019 votes, the closest Senate election in the country that year. Leaning in on support of abortion rights has been a winning path for Democrats and Republicans in recent New Hampshire elections. Polling over decades suggests New Hampshire residents strongly back abortion rights, at least until the third trimester.
The Republicans will likely want to talk only about the economy and inflation, but there might be no other Senate candidate in the country better positioned to take advantage of the backlash to the Dobbs decision than Hassan. In fact, it could be the issue that makes the difference for her.
2. The decision could be a defining issue in Rhode Island Democratic primaries
Rhode Island is blessed with two very interesting contests, a wide-open race for governor and an open race for Congress.
Until now the contests have been driven by personality, the campaigns’ ability to raise money, and the candidates’ electability. The Dobbs decision has injected a sense of mission and an issue candidates will have to convincingly address for the base.
Abortion politics can be tricky in a place like Rhode Island. While the state has policies that lean culturally liberal, the state is rarely at the forefront of them. For example, until recently the long-time House speaker was a staunch opponent of abortion rights. Rhode Island was also the last state in New England to legalize same-sex marriage.
Abortion is now something that the five people running in the primary for governor and the six people running in the primary for the Second Congressional District will have to address.
3. It could impact which New Englanders could run for president in 2024
If Joe Biden doesn’t run for president, the Dobbs decision may make it more likely that a woman is the Democratic nominee in 2024. Democrats, like Republicans, are amid an ideological and generational shift. The Dobbs decision could focus the race more on restoring abortion rights, and female politicians could be more authentic to the Democratic base on the issue.
This is good news for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren should she decide to run again for president. Warren was the top female finisher in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. In the wake of both the leaked draft opinion of the Dobbs decision and the actual decision last week, Warren has been a public face of opposition nationally.
Conversely, this decision doesn’t exactly tee up a third presidential run for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The need to address economic inequality has been at the heart of Sanders’s politics, not social issues, even though there is no daylight between his position and, say, Warren.
On the Republican side, if Donald Trump wants to run again he can take a victory lap in the 2024 Republican primary, credibly saying he was responsible for getting the majority on the court that overturned Roe.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu will likely be sidelined. Even on Tuesday morning in an interview with Punchbowl News, Sununu didn’t close the door on a run for president in 2024. But Sununu is pro-choice and that could be a stance that is simply unpalatable to a base that could be eager for a national abortion ban to be passed under a Republican president.
4. Susan Collins is in a super-awkward position in Maine
In 2020, Collins became the first woman in US history to win a fifth term in the US Senate. It was a race that many thought she couldn’t win.
While she has had many tough votes in her career, her vote to confirm Kavanaugh to the court in 2018 has drawn a storm of flak. When she was up for reelection in 2020, that vote made it her toughest reelection campaign ever.
Her answer then was simple: Kavanaugh had assured her he wouldn’t overturn Roe. Well, last week he went ahead and voted to overturn Roe, leaving Collins to say she was “misled.”
Who knows where this all leads? She wouldn’t be up for reelection until 2026, when she would be 74 years old. It could be time to step away, but that is still relatively young for the Senate. Kavanaugh may have faded as an issue by then. Or maybe the Roe decision will still be reverberating around New England.
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.