It was not so long ago that the nation was reading and talking about Thomas Frank’s book, What’s The Matter With Kansas? The author went back to his home state to dive into the reason for the right-wing fascination with culture wars. More to the point, he pondered why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests.
Tuesday night, like so many others across the nation, I was following the counting of the ballots in Kansas as it related to a constitutional question regarding abortion rights for their citizens. I was certainly heartened by the outcome, but also stunned that it happened, and by such a wide margin of victory.
The question for the voters in the conservative state could not have been any clearer and to the point. Do you favor removing state constitutional protections for abortion access?
Given the ideological ruling by the conservatives on the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case, state after state will become election battlegrounds where the citizenry will be asked to stomp down the overzealous nature of those who feel a need or a ‘right’ to interfere with a woman’s reproductive health care decisions. The question going forward will be how strident the GOP acts given the reality of the mood among the voters regarding this issue.
To be fair with the facts—and I try to be on this blog–Republicans could feel confident going into the balloting about the political landscape, given the voting record of Kansas. I noted last night that only one Democratic presidential nominee won Kansas since 1940! That was Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964. Today, conservative Republican supermajorities control the legislature. Add in the politics of a midterm primary with GOP candidates up and down the ballot and the suspected low-voter turnout for such balloting could lead the GOP to believe the amendment was a slam-dunk.
If the conservatives watched the polls, they would have had more reason to feel confident, as every pre-election poll suggested passage was most certain. They could feel the power in their hands, as it was likely that voters would say yes, thus striking the abortion language in the state constitution, and come January a total ban on abortion would be passed in the legislature.
So, what happened?
The problem of course, for the conservative Republicans, is that they have lost insight into the importance that women, and supportive men, too, place on the right to abortion services along with the ability of women to make their own decisions about their body. They misjudged suburban voters…Lord, how they misjudged them. The giddiness that followed the stripping of a fifty-year-old precedent in the nation was not lost on the people in Kansas. A conservative state, I must add, once again.
Kansas voters favored abortion rights by over 20 points. Now, I am not a consultant or even engaged directly in any race come the fall elections. But if I were advising a candidate, it would be to make hay with the backlash that is building in the states about a woman’s right to choose. I would urge candidates to take this battle directly into the heart of conservative country.
This morning the data from Kansas shows that turnout was near a record level for a midterm primary election. Looking at the map today of the outcome the success in balloting occurred not only in progressive areas, but far direr for the GOP across the nation come the midterms, success Tuesday took place in Middle America and more moderate Republican areas like the Kansas City suburbs. There were also red areas of the state that said to Alito and Company “get your hands off my body”. That message needs to resonate within the Republican Party from top to bottom.
When this election cycle is over another assessment will need to be made of the political culture wars perpetrated by conservatives. A new book might be required, and the title I propose is It Started In Kansas.