Indiana Democrats pin legislative gains on abortion debate
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Even before Republican legislators this summer made Indiana the first state to pass an abortion ban since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats started urging angry voters to take their revenge at the ballot box.
Indiana Democrats haven’t let up on that push in the final days of this year’s elections, although a limited number of competitive races on the Nov. 8 ballot for the currently Republican-dominated Legislature leave them with slim chances of being able to do much about abortion access that is also being debated during campaigns across the country.
Indiana Republicans, meanwhile, argue that voters are more worried about other issues such as inflation and crime — concerns widely believed to favor the GOP.
Democratic candidate Joey Mayer said the abortion ban has remained a top issue as she’s talked with voters in a northern Indianapolis suburban district where she’s challenging a four-term Republican House member who voted in favor of the ban when it passed in August.
“Many people that I have met through door-knocking that identify as a Libertarian or a lifelong Republican have said, ‘I’m done, I’m done. This is ridiculous overreach,'” Mayer said.
The state Supreme Court has allowed abortions to continue in Indiana while it considers a lawsuit from abortion clinic operators arguing that the ban violates the state constitution.
Mayer, a business consultant from Westfield, said the blocking of the abortion ban only slowed down talk about it among voters for a couple days.
“Then people were like, ‘This doesn’t fix the problem’ and it seemed like everybody started to get spun up again,” Mayer said.
Republicans go into the election with a 71-29 Indiana House majority and a 39-11 state Senate advantage, giving them supermajorities in both chambers that allow them to take action even without any Democrats present.
Republicans used those commanding margins to boost their legislative campaign funds to about $8 million for the year through the end of September — about four times what Democrats raised, according to state campaign reports. GOP lawmakers also controlled last year’s redistricting process that produced new legislative district maps that political analysts found locked in a partisan advantage for the next decade.
In order to pick up the five House seats needed to break the two-thirds supermajority, Democrats such as Mayer will have to capture Republican-held seats in suburban Indianapolis and hold onto GOP-targeted seats in cities such as Anderson and Jeffersonville.
Current Republican lawmakers largely held off numerous hard-right challengers in the May primary who argued that the Legislature had not been aggressive enough in attempting to ban abortion. The law that ultimately passed during a special session over the summer includes exceptions allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest and to protect the life and physical health of the mother — exceptions that were opposed by many anti-abortion activists as making the ban too lax.
Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said he believed his party would retain the supermajority as GOP candidates have focused on talking about issues such as the economy, education and crime.
“It’s hard to talk about how Democratic leadership is doing things positively across the country,” Huston said. “So, you have to pick one thing and they decided the one thing they wanted to pick. I think we’ve got a much broader and better story to tell.”
Many voters won’t have a chance of voting Democratic for the Legislature as the party doesn’t have candidates on the ballot for 33 of the 100 House seats and eight of the 25 Senate seats up for election. Republicans aren’t running in 14 House races while all Senate districts have GOP candidates.
The July 15 deadline for parties to fill ballot vacancies passed a couple weeks after the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling and before the Legislature’s special session began.
Republican state Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville, who joined Democrats in opposing the abortion ban, said many women have been angry about the law and Democrats missed an opportunity by not having more candidates. Time also hasn’t been on the side of those campaigning as abortion-rights supporters, said Becker, a 41-year member of the Legislature.
“I think if the election had been held in September they would have done a lot better,” Becker said. “I think now it’s kind of fatigued.”
Democratic candidate Katherine Rybak said issues such as rising utility costs were on her mind when she decided last year to challenge Republican Rep. Wendy McNamara in a GOP-leaning district that covers part of Evansville and extends into rural Posey County in southwestern Indiana.
The abortion issue was pushed to the forefront in that race as Huston picked McNamara to sponsor the abortion ban bill this summer and Cheryl Batteiger-Smith, a former Posey County Republican vice chair, joined the ballot as an independent calling for a tighter abortion ban without exceptions.
Rybak, a semi-retired lawyer, said she believed that victories by candidates such as herself who support abortion rights would send a strong message to the Legislature.
“If I can pull this out, it will show that there is a groundswell of support for women and women’s rights, and I think it may moderate the Republican Legislature,” Rybak said. “That’s all we can hope at this point. I think it does show that maybe a safe seat isn’t a safe seat.”
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