Kansas governor lauds abortion vote but focuses on economy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Democratic Governor Laura Kelly lost time shortly after a decisive victory in Kansas for abortion rights before sending out a national fundraising email warning that access to the procedure would be “on the cutting board” if his party did not win in the November elections.

But his message to voters at large as he heads into the fall campaign is dramatically different, even as Democrats in other states point to access to abortion as a problem.

A few days after her abortion-related fundraising email, Kelly’s team suggested that she would focus her re-election campaign on now healthy state finances, solid public school funding, and high-profile promises. of businesses to create jobs.

Democrats are divided over whether it is the best strategy in a tough race against Republican Derek Schmidt, the three-term state attorney general. Kelly has yet to win over some moderate proxies and republicans in his solid red state, and although access to abortion may attract centrist voters and increase voter turnout, it’s the economy – and the pinch at the supermarket from inflation – that remains a great concern for them.

“It needs to attract people from all kinds of areas,” said Joan Wagnon, former mayor of Topeka, state lawmaker and chair of the Democratic Party of Kansas. While Kelly may use abortion as her problem for her benefit, Wagnon said, “I don’t think it’s the focus of her campaign.”

Voters on August 2 overwhelmingly rejected a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would remove protections for the right to abortion. It was the first state referendum on abortion after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

Kelly’s approach to the general election contrasts with the way democratic governments do. Tony Evers in Wisconsin and Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan have made support for abortion rights a central element of their re-election campaigns. In Ohio, Democratic candidate Nan Whaley is highlighting the issue in her race against anti-abortion Republican governor Mike DeWine.

Some Democrats think Kelly is missing out on an opportunity if she doesn’t follow suit.

“The only way to inspire young voters, which is what Laura Kelly needs, is to make them feel like you understand the issues they care about right now,” said Christopher Reeves, activist, consultant and former Democratic National Committee. of Kansas City. member. “And the issue they care about, especially young women voters, is abortion.”

Winning her first term in 2018 by roughly 5 percentage points, Kelly has courted independent and moderate Republican voters by posing as a common-sense bipartisan leader.

But it was also running a good year for the Democrats – they regained a majority in the US House – and against conservative Kris Kobach, who advocated harsh immigration policies as one of the main supporters of then President Donald Trump.

Kelly’s stance on abortion rights has put Stephan Simmons, a 25-year-old recruiter in higher education, firmly in his field for November. Once a conservative Republican became an unaffiliated voter, he became a Democrat just before the August 2 election.

He made sure he returned to Kansas City from a business trip in time to drive to his hometown of Wichita to vote in person. Along the way, he took a friend, Hunter Picard, so that Picard could vote in Rose Hill, southeast of Wichita. Picard, a 25-year-old chemist who works in Lawrence, is not affiliated with.

Both said they thought about their sisters before voting against the proposed amendment. But Picard said he hasn’t decided how he will vote in the run for governor in November.

Mandi Hunter, a 46-year-old real estate attorney from the Kansas City suburb of Leawood, is a self-appointed moderate GOP who voted against the proposed constitutional amendment. She, too, said she was undecided about her vote in November, although she noted that there will be more to the ballot than just an abortion.

“They can’t ignore the other problems,” Hunter said.

Some Republicans believe voters will remain far more focused on the economy than on abortion. Kelly is campaigning as if she agrees, organizing a “Prosperity on the Plains” tour to further his administration’s business development efforts.

Kelly’s campaign spokesperson Madison Andrus focused on economic and educational issues when asked for more details on the governor’s stance on abortion. The campaign wouldn’t say whether Kelly wants more access to abortion than is allowed now, with the state banning most abortions at the 22nd week of pregnancy and imposing other requirements such as a 24-hour waiting period.

Kelly’s staff did not make the governor available to discuss his campaign, but did provide a statement on his behalf to the Associated Press.

“The vote on August 2 shows that the Kansan want their government to focus on things like the economy and schools and not intervene in private medical decisions. Now that voters have spoken clearly, Governor Kelly will remain focused on bringing both sides together for results: a balanced budget, tax cuts, full school funding and attracting new businesses to the state, “campaign spokesperson Lauren said. Fitzgerald.

Schmidt, who supported the proposed constitutional change, said in a post-election statement that he never “supported the ban” on abortion. He said he argues that abortions save a woman’s life, in cases of rape and incest and when a fetus has a condition “which makes it impossible to survive outside the womb.”

On Thursday, Schmidt said that the outcome of the referendum must be “respected” and that, if elected governor, he would focus on enforcing the abortion laws already foreseen.

Some political agents and pollsters argue that they read the Kansas vote narrowly, as opposing a ban or near-total ban rather than unconditional support for abortion under any circumstances.

A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in July found that while the majority of people in the United States wanted Congress to pass a law granting access to abortion nationwide, only a third said that a state should generally allow abortions at 24 weeks. Just over half would allow abortion at 15 weeks.

Charles Franklin, poll director at Marquette University’s law school, said Democrats should run against the severe restrictions on abortion. “The challenge is”, he said, “how can you do it without appearing for the right to unlimited abortion?”

Pat McPherron, an Oklahoma City GOP pollster working for US Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Said he expects abortion to fade as a problem.

“He is one that voters think has been asked and answered,” he said. “The voters go on”.

Supporters of abortion rights have acknowledged that they are still trying to figure out how to keep their constituents full of energy until November.

“Frankly, it’s our job to make sure they don’t move forward,” said Susan Osborne, one of the leaders of Women for Kansas, a non-partisan advocacy group that opposed the proposed amendment. “This was the beginning of the journey for us”.

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Associated Press writers Sara Burnett in Chicago and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Schmidt, in an election event Thursday, did not specifically address whether he would support stricter restrictions on abortion had he been elected governor.

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