Voters in Arizona reminded of Trump and Republicans’ role in abortion bans

Democrats in Arizona went on the attack on Friday against Republicans over their apparent about-face on abortion rights and vowed to keep the issue front and center in the swing state that could sway both the presidential election and control of the U.S. Senate in November.

Democratic Senate candidate Ruben Gallego targeted his criticisms on Republican Kari Lake who, like presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, has scrambled to produce a moderate message on abortion after the Arizona Supreme Court this week ruled that a near-total abortion ban from 1864 can take effect in the coming weeks.

In a campaign memo obtained by The Washington Post, Nichole Johnson, Gallego’s campaign manager, attacked Lake’s shifting stance on the issue after the state court decision. And speaking to reporters before appearing alongside Vice President Harris at a campaign rally in Tucson, Gallego seized on the importance of abortion rights to voters, saying abortion access was “the number one political issue” in Arizona.

“Trump did this. We wouldn’t be having this issue at all if he didn’t appoint those three judges that ended up overturning Roe v. Wade,” said Gallego, who represents Arizona’s 3rd District encompassing much of Phoenix.

“There is no better example, starker example, of black and white,” he added. “Trump did this and Kari Lake was cheerleading the whole way.”

Hours later, Harris delivered a similar message onstage.

“The overturning of Roe was, without any question, a seismic event — and this ban here in Arizona is one of the biggest aftershocks yet,” Harris said.

“Donald Trump is the architect of this health-care crisis,” she said. “That is not a fact, by the way, that he hides. In fact, he brags about it.”

The ruling has made the Senate race in Arizona a microcosm of the national fight over abortion rights in an election that was already expected to be close.

Lake, a close ally of Trump’s, said in a five-minute video posted on X on Thursday that the ban is “out of line with where the people of this state are.”

That was a stark departure from comments she made during her failed gubernatorial bid in 2022, when she praised the 160-year-old measure that was enacted even before Arizona became a state as “a great law.” She had also called abortion the “ultimate sin” and frequently voiced her opposition to the procedure on the campaign trail.

In the Thursday video, Lake explained that she now supports exceptions in the case of rape, incest or threat to the life of the pregnant person — the same position Trump announced in another similarly long video shared on social media. Lake’s tone in her latest video is markedly moderate in a way her previous stances on abortion have not been. She has also reportedly been contacting GOP state lawmakers to express her support for an effort to repeal the law and leave an existing 15-week abortion ban in place.

Lake’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Arizona Democrats see a clear messaging opportunity in her shifting stance.

“The bottom line: no half-baked, convoluted statement on this week’s ruling — or desperate, self-interested attempts to have her fellow Republicans get rid of the issue — can erase Lake’s long-documented anti-abortion position,” Johnson, Gallego’s campaign manager, said in a memo. “She will say or do anything to get power, but our campaign will spend now until November reminding Arizonans just how dangerous her position on abortion is.”

Public opinion in Arizona has also been in favor of abortion rights, and Democrats hope that will motivate voters to turn out in November. An October New York Times-Siena College poll found that 59 percent of Arizona registered voters said abortion should be mostly or always legal, while 34 percent said it should be mostly or always illegal.

Gallego also hosted a news conference Friday night with Mini Timmaraju, president and CEO of Reproductive Freedom for All, a national organization advocating for reproductive rights.

The Democratic National Committee is also stepping up the pressure, placing billboards across Phoenix and Tempe with messages directly tying Trump to the revival of the 1864 law. The Biden campaign announced a seven-figure investment in Arizona to target voters on the issue of abortion rights — including a new ad, “Power Back,” that argues Trump is responsible for the demise of Roe and the abortion bans that have followed in more than a dozen states.

Harris’s decision to quickly schedule a campaign event in Arizona on Friday to address the ban highlights Democrats’ willingness to put the issue at the center of their campaign strategy. It is a marked shift from 2020, when then-candidate Biden barely uttered the word “abortion” on the campaign trail.

On Friday, ahead of Harris’s appearance, the Biden campaign made a dig at Trump, who has sought distance from the Arizona decision even as he continues to take credit for the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. “As Trump is finding out this week, ‘leaving it to the states’ was not a good idea,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Sarafina Chitika said in a statement. “Arizona’s abortion ban — and every abortion ban across the country — is the direct result of Trump overturning Roe.

Republican strategists in Arizona are already bracing for the likelihood of a Democratic sweep of the state, thanks in large part to the court’s decision. Max Fose, a longtime Republican strategist who supported incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in her 2018 bid for Senate, said he expects the court ruling to have a “huge ripple effect on all races in Arizona.” Fose especially sees the issue benefiting Gallego in the Senate race and his fundraising efforts.

“There’s going to be voters that look at Ruben Gallego for the first time and what they’re going to see is that he’s with them on this issue — and that’s going to be positive for him,” Fose said.

Democrats, meanwhile, are watching Republicans scramble to adopt a moderate stance on abortion with a mix of fascination and skepticism. Stacy Pearson, a moderate Democratic strategist, said Lake’s video — in which she also expressed support for policies that would build out a safety net for mothers in the state, a position she has more openly embraced this campaign cycle — shows that Republicans are “missing the assignment.”

“That is the earthquake that hit,” Pearson said of the state’s Supreme Court decision. “Democrats who were fighting over shades of blue in Arizona — which remains a red state — are done fighting over shades of blue.”

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