Court vacancy fuels abortion politics in midterm elections

Democrats and Republicans once largely agreed that the upcoming midterm elections would hinge on the economy, health care and President Donald Trump’s popularity. Not anymore.

A Supreme Court vacancy has pushed abortion to the forefront of election year politics, with both supporters and opponents suggesting that the emotional issue could drive more voters to the polls. That’s especially true in states like Iowa, where Republicans have enacted restrictive measures on abortion in the past two years.

“It could very well drive energy and enthusiasm nationally,” said Paul Harstad, a veteran Democratic pollster who for decades advised former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin. “But Iowa is a case where it’s getting to be on the front burner. The issue has become very real in Iowa.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Associated Press reporters are on the ground around the country, covering political issues, people and races from places they live. The Ground Game series highlights that reporting, looking at politics from the ground up. Each week, in stories and a new podcast, AP reporters examine the political trends that will drive the national conversation tomorrow.

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WHAT’S HAPPENING

A pair of recent abortion restrictions in Iowa have made the state a focal point in the national debate.

A late-June decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to strike down a required 72-hour waiting period before an abortion sparked outrage among Christian conservatives, a potent force in the Iowa GOP. It also emboldened Democratic nominee for governor, Fred Hubbell, who is a past Iowa leader of Planned Parenthood, and underscored the contrast with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who opposes abortion in all cases except to save a mother’s life.

The decision, which asserted “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free,” also bodes ill for the even more restrictive law Reynolds signed in May but was blocked pending court review.

That law, the nation’s most restrictive, banned abortion after the detection of a heartbeat — usually at around six weeks of pregnancy.

“Americans know that when a baby’s heart is beating, she’s alive, but our state judges aren’t willing to protect her life,” Chuck Hurley, a vocal opponent of abortion rights in Iowa, proclaimed from the Iowa Capitol steps in Des Moines.

WHY IT MATTERS

In Iowa, abortion rights have motivated swing voters in close statewide races. Polls have shown that the issue can motivate votes for Democrats who have characterized a Republican opponent as extreme.

That said, an uptick in turnout among Christian conservatives allowed President George W. Bush to narrowly carry Iowa in 2004, aided by late-campaign radio ads noting the Republican’s opposition…

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