Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday downplayed the impact of abortion politics on the battle for the Senate majority, predicting that the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade will play differently in different states.
McConnell has sought to make the 2022 midterm elections a referendum on President Biden by focusing on inflation, the influx of migrants across the southern border and rising crime rates in big cities.
But political handicappers now say that Democrats are favored to keep their Senate majority, in large part because Democrats are more eager to vote in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down the right to abortion.
Asked Wednesday if he had been overly dismissive of the impact of abortion politics on the battle for the Senate, McConnell said: “I think that issue is playing out it in different ways in different states.”
But the GOP leader argued that other issues are doing more to move voters nationwide.
“The three big national issues that we’re going to be addressing here that people are most concerned about, nationally, are the ones that I mentioned: inflation, crime and open borders. That’s clearly where we’re going to be putting the focus,” he said.
On the hot-button issue of abortion rights, McConnell said he’ll leave it to individual Senate candidates to craft their positions.
“I think every one of our candidates may have a different answer to that depending on where they are,” he said.
In May, McConnell defended the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion rights and predicted the issue would be “a wash” in the November elections.
But some Senate Republican strategists now concede the issue has revved up Democratic voters more than they expected.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted from Sept. 18 to Sept. 19 showed that Republicans’ generic advantage over Democrats has slipped since February.
Forty-seven percent of respondents said they would vote for a Republican candidate in a generic House race, while 46 percent said they would vote for a Democrat. That’s a shift compared to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in February that showed respondents favoring Republicans 49 percent to 42 percent.
People surveyed in the poll said by a 3-point margin — 48 percent to 45 percent — that they would prefer Republicans control Congress next year. But the margin was 10 points in February — 50 percent to 40 percent.
The poll showed that Democrats see abortion as the second most important issue heading into the election, trailing only climate change.
The poll also showed that voters trust Democrats more than Republicans by a 17-point margin to handle the abortion issue appropriately. Voters, however, gave Republicans the edge on crime, inflation and the economy.
McConnell in recent weeks has tried to manage expectations about Republicans’ chances of winning back control of the Senate.
He raised eyebrows in August when he said that Republicans are more likely to win control of the House than the Senate and cited “candidate quality,” a comment that was broadly seen as a subtle critique of some of the Senate Republican candidates who are closely aligned with former President Trump.
The GOP leader on Wednesday said “terrific candidates” always make a big difference in Senate races and predicted the battle for the Senate majority would be a toss-up.
“In every election every year, this year, past years, it’s great to have terrific candidates. We’re in a bunch of close races. I think we have a 50-50 shot of getting the Senate back. It’s going to be really, really close either way, in my view,” he said.