WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are pumping an unprecedented amount of money into advertising related to abortion rights, underscoring how central the message is to the party in the final weeks before the November midterm elections.
With the most intense period of campaigning only just beginning, Democrats have already invested more than an estimated $124 million this year in television advertising referencing abortion. That's more than twice as much money as the Democrats' next top issue this year, "character," and almost 20 times more than Democrats spent on abortion-related ads in the 2018 midterms.
The estimated spending figures, based on an Associated Press analysis of data provided by the nonpartisan research firm AdImpact, reveal the extent to which Democrats are betting their majorities in Congress and key governorships on one issue. That's even as large majorities of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction and that the economy is in poor condition.
The advertising numbers also reveal just how sharply Republicans have shied away from abortion in their paid advertising in the weeks since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a decades-long goal of the GOP. (The AdImpact data captures every single time a campaign ad is aired on TV, and estimates a cost associated with those airings.)
Since the high court's decision in June to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion, roughly 1 in 3 television advertising dollars spent by Democrats and their allies have 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 push to restrict abortion rights or outlaw the practice altogether.
The Democrats' unprecedented investment in abortion messaging on TV this year through Sept. 18 is larger than the Republican Party's combined national investment in ads relating to the economy, crime and immigration.
"With less than 60 days until the election, we refuse to stand by while out-of-step, anti-choice Republicans try to control our bodies and our futures and simultaneously lie about it 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 are ensuring that each voter knows the candidates that stand with them and against them in protecting this right."
The Democrats' overwhelming focus on abortion may not be surprising given the reversal 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 like the economy, education and health care.
In the 2018 midterm elections, for example, Democrats spent less than $6 million on abortion-related television advertising. That's compared to the $51 million that Democrats invested in Trump-related ads, $49 million on health care and $46 million on education, according to AdImpact.
Jessica Floyd, president of American Bridge, a Democrat-allied super PAC running abortion-related advertising in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, described abortion as "the ultimate health care issue" for women and families. The Supreme Court decision and the subsequent Republican push to ban abortion in some states, she said, represent "an actual rolling back of rights, which is unprecedented."
"It's a very powerful motivator," Floyd said. "It flies in the face of everything we know voters care about — especially the voters who will decide this election."
Television advertising data reveals that Republicans, too, have invested millions of dollars in abortion messaging. But most of those ads ran during the primary phase of the campaign this spring and summer as Republican candidates touted their anti-abortion credentials. The number of Republican ads aired referencing abortion has gone down each month since May.
As the calendar has shifted to the fall general election, the gulf between Democratic and Republican spending on abortion has grown even wider. So far this month, for example, Democrats and their allies have aired more than 68,000 ads on TV referencing abortion — more than 15 times as many as their Republican counterparts. They've spent an estimated $31 million on such ads compared with the GOP's outlay of only $2.8 million. That's even as Republican leaders such as GOP Chair Ronna McDaniel acknowledged in a recent interview that her party cannot allow Democrats to control the narrative on abortion.
"It's very clear that that's the only thing that Democrats have to run on, right? They don't run on a good economy. They can't run on community being safer. They can't run on education," McDaniel said. "So what are they going to do? They're going to make everything about abortion, which means we're going to have to talk about it as Republicans do."
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