WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are pouring an unprecedented amount of money into ads related to abortion rights, underscoring how central the message is to the party in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections.
With the most intense campaign season just beginning, Democrats have already invested more than $124 million this year in TV ads that address abortion. That’s more than twice as much money as the Democrats’ next top issue this year, “character,” and nearly 20 times what Democrats spent on abortion-related ads in the 2018 midterm elections.
The estimated spending figures, based on an analysis of Associated Press data provided by the nonpartisan research firm AdImpact, reveal the extent to which Democrats are betting their majorities in Congress and key governments on an issue. This is even when a large majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and the economy is in bad shape.
The ad numbers also reveal how strongly Republicans have shied away from abortion in their paid ads in the weeks since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a decades-long GOP goal. (AdImpact data records every time a campaign ad airs on TV and calculates the costs associated with those airings.)
Since the high court’s decision in June to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion, about 1 in 3 television ad dollars spent by Democrats and their allies has focused on abortion. Much of the spending is designed to attack Republicans on the ballot this fall, who have long opposed abortion rights and are currently engaged in a state-by-state drive to limit abortion rights or outlaw the practice. .
The Democrats’ unprecedented investment in abortion messages on television this year through Sept. 18 is greater than the Republican Party’s combined national investment in ads related to the economy, crime and immigration.
“With less than 60 days until the election, we refuse to stand by while non-choice Republicans try to control our bodies and our futures while lying to voters,” said Melissa Williams, executive director of Women Vote!, an outside group that has invested more than $4 million in abortion-related ads this year. “We’re making sure every voter knows the candidates who are with them and against them to protect that right.”
Democrats’ overwhelming focus on abortion may not be surprising given the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the wave of Republican-backed abortion bans in more than a dozen states that followed. But the strategy still marks a sharp departure from the party’s focus in recent years on former President Donald Trump and other issues such as the economy, education and health care.
In the 2018 midterm elections, for example, Democrats spent less than $6 million on abortion-related television ads. That compares with $51 million spent by Democrats on Trump-related ads, $49 million on health care and $46 million on education, according to AdImpact.
Jessica Floyd, president of American Bridge, a Democratic-aligned super-PAC that promotes abortion in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, described abortion as “the ultimate health care issue” for women and the families. The Supreme Court decision and the subsequent push by Republicans to ban abortion in some states, he said, represent “a real rollback of rights, which is unprecedented.”
“It’s a very powerful motivator,” Floyd said. “It addresses everything that we know voters care about — especially the voters who will decide this election.”
TV advertising data reveals that Republicans have also invested millions of dollars in pro-abortion messaging. But most of those ads ran during the primary campaign phase this spring and summer, as Republican candidates touted their anti-abortion credentials. The number of Republican ads airing that mention abortion has declined each month since May.
As the calendar has shifted to the fall general election, the gap between Democratic and Republican spending on abortion ads has widened even further. So far this month, for example, Democrats and their allies have aired more than 68,000 abortion-related TV ads — more than 15 times more than their Republican counterparts. They have spent about $31 million on such ads compared to the GOP’s spending of just $2.8 million. That’s even as Republican leaders like GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel acknowledged in a recent interview that her party cannot allow Democrats to control the abortion narrative.
“It’s pretty clear that’s the only thing the Democrats have to run on, right? They’re not running on a good economy. They can’t run on making the community safer. They can’t run on education,” McDaniel said. . “So what are they going to do? They’re going to do anything on abortion, which means we’re going to have to talk about it like the Republicans do.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., angered Republican leaders last week by proposing a national ban on abortion in the 15th week of pregnancy. It was the kind of legislation that Republicans on Capitol Hill have supported for several years. But this year, it was seen as an unwelcome reminder to voters just eight weeks before Election Day that some Republicans in Congress hope to pass national abortion restrictions if given the chance.
McDaniel encouraged Republicans to attack abortion, highlighting Democrats’ resistance to any restrictions, a position she argued did not sit well with most voters. And while Republican leaders and candidates are increasingly making that argument when asked, the party has yet to devote many resources to the issue in the one place most voters hear from GOP candidates: their screens.
Democrats, meanwhile, have released a new wave of abortion-related ads targeting Republican statewide candidates in North Carolina, New Mexico, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado and Florida. Abortion is also a regular issue for legislative candidates in competitive districts in California and Florida. Republican House candidates are under attack for opposing abortion rights in congressional districts in upstate New York, Connecticut, Michigan and Indiana.
In some cases, Republican candidates are getting multiple abortion-related ads running simultaneously on their local TV stations.
One of them is Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, who has been the focus of abortion-related attack ads from three groups so far this month, including his opponent, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. In each of the three ad campaigns, Michels is seen affirming that he opposes abortion rights even in cases of rape or incest.
“Is this the divisive radical you want as your governor?” asks the narrator in an ad produced by the Evers campaign.
Michels’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Much the same is true in Nevada, where Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in the nation. This month, at least two anti-Republican groups and the Cortez Masto campaign itself ran pro-abortion ads against GOP challenger Adam Laxalt.
Cortez Masto’s campaign featured a doctor who said Republicans are trying to interfere in women’s health decisions.
“For doctors like me, it’s our job to make sure women have the support they need to make decisions that are right for them. But Adam Laxalt disagrees,” the doctor says in an ad.
In an op-ed last month, Laxalt tried to push back against the flood of abortion-related ads against him.
“Cortez Masto and her allies are spending millions of dollars in ad campaigns trying to… make you believe a lie that I would support a federal abortion ban as a US Senator or that I am somehow ‘anti-woman’ because I value, support and defend life at all stages,” he wrote. “For my entire adult life, I’ve held the view that the Supreme Court should return the issue of abortion to the people and let them decide the issue on a state-by-state basis.”
So far, abortion has been the focus of the Nevada Senate race, but other elections have seen far more abortion-related ads.
AdImpact data shows that the most abortion-related TV ads aired this year came in the Pennsylvania and Arizona Senate races, followed by the Illinois, Georgia and Wisconsin gubernatorial contests. (Kansas’ now-defeated constitutional amendment measure, though a one-off election, also saw some of the most advertising.)
Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams ran an ad campaign for much of August through September attacking Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, using the words of several women speaking directly to the camera.
“He supports a total ban, even if I am raped, a victim of incest,” the women say. Another woman almost cries when she says, “Under Kemp, I could be investigated and jailed for a miscarriage.”
Kemp spokeswoman Tate Mitchell disputed the accuracy of the ads, charging that “Stacey Abrams and her campaign are lying in an attempt to scare people and distract voters from her dangerous agenda for Georgia.”
Democrats in many states are swinging aggressively toward opposition from some leading Republicans to exemptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest or the mother’s life is at risk.
Cliff Schecter, a veteran Democratic ad maker and founder of Blue Amp Strategies, said Democrats are “messaging much better on abortion” this year.
“It’s not just liberal women or even moderate women anymore. It’s the conservative women who are freaking out about it,” Schecter said of the new abortion restrictions being implemented across the country. “It would be bad practice not to focus on that.”
People reported from New York.