The Roe v. Wade decision could upend the midterms. Here's where it might matter most
- Democrats believe public opinion is on their side.
- GOP Senate candidates in battleground states Nevada and New Hampshire downplayed the impact the ruling.
- The first race to watch is just three weeks away and involves two Democrats.
WASHINGTON – The blockbuster leak last week of a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision jolted a midterm election season already underway.
Facing stiff headwinds to hold onto power in Congress, Democrats immediately worked to make abortion rights a defining issue of the campaign, urging their base to elect lawmakers in Congress who support codifying Roe.
Democrats believe public opinion is on their side, and President Joe Biden set out to frame the potential Roe decision as the latest example of an extreme "ultra MAGA agenda."
Republican strategists said the midterms will ultimately be a referendum on the past two years of Democratic control, with voters more concerned about rising inflation and an influx of migrants at the southern border.
GOP Senate candidates in battleground states Nevada and New Hampshire downplayed the impact the ruling would have on their states, where abortion rights are protected. Yet Republicans also said they see opportunity to call out "extreme" positions of Democrats who support late-term abortions.
"Expose the Democrats for the extreme views they hold," reads a National Republican Senatorial Committee messaging memo.
A potential decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade could upend races across the election.
Here are six of them to watch.
Cuellar-Cisneros Democratic primary
The first race to watch is just three weeks away and involves two Democrats – one pro-abortion rights, the other anti-abortion rights.
Democratic challenger Jessica Cisneros, looking to unseat longtime Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, went on the attack against her opponent's record on abortion immediately after the release of the draft opinion.
The two are squared off in a Democratic primary runoff after neither won a majority of the vote in the March 1 primary in a district that runs from east of San Antonio to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Cisneros slammed Cuellar as "the only Democrat to vote with Republicans" against codifying the Roe v. Wade decision through the Women's Health Protection Act, which the House voted 218-211 to approve last September.
"I’ll always stand for our health care and the right to choose," Cisneros said in a tweet. "In 21 days, Cuellar & I will face off in the Democratic runoff. Let’s defeat the last anti-choice Democrat in the US House."
Cuellar finished first in March with 48.4% of the vote, while Cisneros won 46.9%.
Cuellar, whose home and campaign office were raided by the FBI in January as part of an undisclosed investigation, stood by his anti-abortion record but said he opposes the draft opinion of the Supreme Court.
"As a Catholic I do not support abortion," the congressman said in a statement. "However, we cannot have an outright ban. There must be exceptions in the case of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother."
He said his "faith won't allow him to support a ruling" that would criminalize teenage victims of rape and incest and that "would make a mother choose between her life and her child's."
Nevada Senate race
Nevada is among the states where Democrats are playing defense as incumbents seek reelection, making it virtually a must-win for them to have any shot of retaining control of the Senate.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., will take on one of several Republican seeking the party's nomination, with former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt the GOP primary front-runner.
Democrats believe abortion rights is an issue that could help swing Cortez Masto to victory in a race that polling has shown will likely be close.
Support for abortion is higher in Nevada than any other Western state, according to polling from the Public Religion Research Institute, which found 64% of Nevadans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Nearly two-thirds of Nevada voters approved a referendum in 1990 protecting abortion rights in Nevada.
"It is an attack on women's reproductive freedom rights," Cortez Masto told the NBC affiliate in Nevada of the Supreme Court's draft onion. "And it will galvanize this country."
Expect the senator to highlight a major contrast with Laxalt, who opposes abortion rights. He called the draft opinion a "historic victory for the sanctity of life," but also noted Nevadans have already voted to make abortion rights legal in Nevada: "It is currently settled law in our state."
New Hampshire Senate race
Similar dynamics are at play in New Hampshire, where another vulnerable Democrat, Sen. Maggie Hassan, is seeking to hold on to her seat against several Republicans vying for the GOP nomination.
They include New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse and former Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc. Gov. Chris Sununu passed on entering the race.
Like Cortez Masto in Nevada, Hassan was among the Democratic senators who stood on the steps of the Capitol Tuesday in a show of support for abortion rights.
"Congress must respond by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, enshrining Roe v. Wade as the law of the land and protecting the right of every woman to control her own destiny," Hassan said in a statement.
Morse, who said he was "proud of his pro-life record," downplayed the impact of the ruling on New Hampshire, which allows abortions up to 24 weeks.
"This potential decision will have no impact on New Hampshire," he said.
Wisconsin Senate race
Abortion rights could also figure prominently in the Senate race in Wisconsin, a state that presents Democrats perhaps their best opportunity to unseat a sitting Republican. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., will have to overcome low favorability ratings to win a third term.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, a 19th century Wisconsin law – currently blocked by the Roe decision – would go back into effect. That law bans doctors from performing abortions except to save the life of the mother.
Democratic candidates seeking the party's nomination to run against Johnson were quick to criticize the Supreme Court's draft opinion.
"I'm at the Supreme Court, where it looks like Ron Johnson is going to get exactly what he wants," Democratic primary candidate Sarah Godlewski, the state's treasurer, said in an online ad released Thursday. "Overturning Roe v. Wade, reinstating Wisconsin's cruel abortion ban and putting doctors in jail."
An October poll from Marquette University Law School found 61% of Wisconsin voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 34% said it should be illegal in all or most cases.
In the past, Johnson has said he supported a national ban on abortion after 20 weeks, and that he wished the Supreme Court had not legalized abortion in 1973.
In a statement after the leaked draft opinion was published, Johnson did not comment on its substance, but instead alleged the goal of the leak was to "intimidate" conservative justices.
"This is yet another example of how the radical left intends to fundamentally transform America, undermine our judicial system, open our borders, drive gasoline prices to record levels, 40-year high inflation, and spark a crime wave," Johnson said.
Georgia Senate race
In most Senate battleground states, Republicans have been less eager than Democrats to go on the attack this week on abortion.
But that's not the case in Georgia, where Herschel Walker, the favorite to win the GOP nod, slammed the pro-abortion rights position of Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.
"As a Christian and a father, I am pro-life and Senator Warnock is not," Walker said in a tweet. "There are many differences between us; this is one of them."
Unlike Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, public opinion on abortion rights in more socially conservative Georgia is mixed. A Pew Research Center poll found that 49% of Georgia adults believe abortion should be illegal in most cases, compared with 48% who believe it should be legal. Similarly, a Public Religion Research Institute poll found 49% of Georgians believe abortion should be legal for all or most cases.
Warnock faces a tough task to duplicate the type of turnout in Atlanta and surrounding suburbs that helped him win one of two Georgia Senate runoff elections in January 2021. Yet abortion rights could be one issue that helps him energize the Democratic base.
"As a pro-choice pastor, I’ve always believed that a patient's room is way too small for a woman, her doctor, and the United States government," Warnock said in a statement. "I'll always fight to protect a woman's right to choose. And that will never change."
Michigan governor's race
In gubernatorial races,, Democrats across the board – Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Texas' Beto O'Rourke and Ohio gubernatorial nominee, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley – could each make protecting abortion rights central to their campaigns.
But perhaps no governor facing reelection has been more outspoken than Michigan
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has framed her candidacy as the state's last defense to ensure women have a right to choose.
"I want every Michigander to know that no matter what happens in D.C., I'm going to fight like hell to protect access to safe, legal abortion in Michigan," Whitmer said in a video after the court draft opinion was reported.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, a 1931 Michigan law banning abortion may take effect again. The law bans abortion except to save the mother's life. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.
Whitmer filed a lawsuit in February asking the Michigan Supreme Court to declare the 1931 law unconstitutional based on the state constitution. The law has never been repealed, but after Roe, state laws banning abortion were deemed unenforceable. Republican lawmakers who control Michigan's state Senate and House aren't expected to send legislation repealing Michigan's ban to Whitmer's desk.
Several Republicans are vying for the party's nomination to take on Whitmer, including James Craig, a former chief of the Detroit Police Department, who is widely viewed as the front-runner.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.