There will be a lot of post mortems trying to explain Romney’s defeat, but the re-emergence of abortion as something of a national issue — and how the Democrats exploited it — should be closely examined.
In Missouri, Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin said in a local news interview that women have biological ways to avoid pregnancy after a “legitimate rape.” Tuesday’s early exit polls show 51% of Missouri voters say they believe abortion should be legal all or most of the time. Of those voters, exit polls show 76% supporting Akin’s opponent, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill while 19% voted for Akin. Forty-seven percent of Missouri’s voters say abortion should be illegal. Exit polls show Akin takes 67% of this group’s votes while 27% of people who think abortion should be illegal supported Sen. McCaskill.
The other state where abortion became a big controversy is Indiana, where Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said during a debate question over abortion rights, that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape…it is something that God intended to happen.” CNN projected Mourdock’s opponent, Joe Donnelly, will defeat Mourdock for the U.S. Senate seat but Indiana voters’ attitudes about abortion are unclear because they weren’t on the exit poll questionnaire.
In some of the other swing states where voters were asked about abortion, 56% of Ohio’s voters told exit pollsters abortion should be legal all or most of the time while 39% say it should be illegal.
Sixty-three percent of Virginia’s voters say abortion should be legal all or most of the time while 33% say it should be illegal.
The split is even more lopsided in New Hampshire where 71% say abortion should be legal all or most of the time and 27% say it should be illegal.
It wasn’t just the ignorance of Akin and misstatements of Mourdock that allowed abortion to bubble to the surface in some states. This was a dynamic the Democrats were trying to exploit even before the gaffes. The “War on Women” became a referendum on abortion rights for some voters, and that worked to the Democrat’s advantage.
Clearly, the issue will not work to the advantage of Democrats everywhere. But to the extent that it can work as a wedge issue, driving women to the polls to vote for pro-choice candidates in some states, it is something the GOP must work to counter.