Entrepreneur Juan Pablo Segura looked like the perfect Republican candidate to win the newly-created Virginia State Senate District 31 that includes much of Loudoun County, home of the parents’ rights movement that gained national attention.
But when the votes were counted in the 2023 race that was among the most expensive campaigns ever in Virginia, more than 52 percent of the ballots went to his Democrat opponent, in a loss that shocked more than a few Republicans who thought it was their year.
Democrats’ warnings of Republican threats to abortion access were the factor that produced the Virginia surprise that could be repeated nationwide in 2024, according to Democratic strategists.
But a Republican campaign pollster sees a huge shift among a key voter group concerning the millions of illegal immigrants that have crossed into the United States since 2021 under President Joe Biden’s open border policies.
That shift could counterbalance the abortion issue.
Led by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Virginia Republicans had high hopes of gaining a state senate majority to match their control of the state house. Instead, not only did they fail to take over the senate, they also lost their majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.
One GOP political expert who was not surprised by the Virginia outcome was Mitchell Brown, political strategy director for Cygnal, a Washington-based polling and analytics firm. He sees a lesson in the Segura loss for Republicans in the 2024 campaign.
“The issue with it is we have to remember that people aren’t voting with their minds, it’s an emotive response to things, so when you’re asked what issue is top-of-the-mind, abortion doesn’t come up among the things we’re seeing nationally on sentiments,” Mr. Brown told The Epoch Times.
“But if you come up to the Mainline in Philadelphia or Northern Virginia’s suburbs or out in Michigan and scream about how someone is a MAGA extremist who wants to put women in prison for getting abortions, that issue is going to be very powerful for Democrats,” Mr. Brown said.
“I live in Northern Virginia in one of the swing districts, right on the edge of Fairfax County and into Loudoun County. Segura never said anything about abortion, but every Sunday when I was watching football, I kept hearing the refrain saying ‘Juan Pablo Segura is the MAGA extremist. He and his friends want to put women in jail for getting abortions,’” Mr. Brown said.
“Those ads were powerful, they got your attention and there is no way to differentiate it when every single Republican was getting hit like that, so it was tough,” he said.
The Virginia outcome was not the only result in 2023 that convinced Democrats that abortion is their best issue for 2024.
Ohio is a solidly red-trending state that gave former President Donald Trump more than 53 percent of its votes against President Joe Biden in 2020.
The results made Ohio the 13th state to strengthen access to abortions, either through state legislative action or a ballot initiative, since the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision that nullified the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
Under Dobbs, each state is re-empowered to decide the abortion issue for its residents. Currently, 21 states either ban abortions outright, with certain exceptions, or permit the procedure up to a specified timeframe in a woman’s pregnancy. In Oklahoma, for example, the procedure is illegal in almost all circumstances, whereas in Utah abortion is allowed anytime up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.
By putting the issue front and center at the state level, the Supreme Court provided a powerful impetus on an issue that Democrats are now rapidly moving to make the centerpiece of their candidates’ campaigns across the country.
On Jan. 23, President Biden, Ms. Harris, and their spouses were featured speakers at the “Reproductive Freedom Campaign Rally” at George Mason University in Virginia. Abortion will likely be featured prominently in Mr. Biden’s re-election campaign and those of virtually every other Democrat on the 2024 ballot.
Democratic campaign strategist Christy Setzer thinks this is a smart strategy.
“For the Biden campaign, elevating abortion rights as a campaign issue is politically smart, a great contrast with Trump and Republican electeds, and the right thing to do,” she told The Epoch Times.
“Since the Dobbs decision, Americans have voted decisively to protect that right, winning not just Democrats, but the lion’s share of independents and even some Republicans. When abortion rights are on the ballot, Democrats over-perform and women come out to vote in greater numbers to protect that right.”
Ms. Setzer emphasized there doesn’t have to be a ballot initiative or other measure explicitly dealing with abortion to motivate Democratic voters to turn out in great numbers.
“That happens even when it’s not explicitly on the ballot—as it was with Issue 1 in Ohio—but merely tangentially, as with Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court election last November. All of which is to say, when abortion is an election issue, Democrats win. The Biden campaign is well aware of this,” Ms. Setzer said.
She was referring to the Democratic success in sweeping four seats of the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the 2023 balloting, giving the party a majority on the state’s top judicial panel.
Mr. Brown doesn’t dispute the evocative power of the abortion issue, but his polling and analytics firm is now seeing data from its regular surveys of likely voters what appears to be the emergence of the chaos at the U.S. southern border as an equally strong emotive influence on voters, including one group that could decide who is in the Oval Office in 2025.
“Immigration is looking today like it did in 2016 as the focal point. I was surprised by the deportation numbers and even people willing to shut down the government over the immigration issue,” Mr. Brown told The Epoch Times.
“Seventy percent of independents and even a majority of Democrats” support deportation, the survey found.
In addition, the survey found that 64 percent support “temporarily militarizing the southern border” to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, while 26 percent were opposed. The survey had a 2 percent margin of error.
“I knew sentiment was going to be high because we’ve seen it in all of our polls across the country, but seeing it hit that level and seeing the Dem and independent numbers on deportation, it shows you that is the message Republicans can push and drive home without losing voters for coming off as extreme,” Mr. Brown said.
Asked how the immigration issue might affect voters who are strong abortion supporters, Mr. Brown said “I can’t answer that question, but what I can tell you is that when we look at the national surveys, there is a large group of people who don’t want Trump or Biden, and that’s who is going to decide the election. It’s figuring out what those people look like and what they respond to.
“With that group, the people who aren’t swinging either way, people who aren’t going to be hard Trump voters, who aren’t going to be hard Biden voters, that’s where the immigration issue pierces through and it can counter abortion. That group of voters doesn’t like Biden but probably chose him in 2020. That’s where immigration is the winning message.”
Members of that group broke for Mr. Biden by 58 percent in 2020, Mr. Brown said, but today that group shows “a big swing factor” when they’re asked about immigration. “It’s the determining factor for them,” Mr. Brown said.
Further complicating calculations of the impact of the abortion and immigration issues on the 2024 election are the presence of independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a rival to President Biden in the Democratic primary.
“[Kennedy] believes the issue of late-term abortions is being used to artificially divide the American public,” the spokesman said.
“Practically speaking, these are exceedingly rare, and almost always done in situations of medical emergency. While they are both tragic and disturbing, Mr. Kennedy believes it is not up to the government to intervene in these difficult medical and moral choices. That should be left up to the woman and her doctor.”
Two Phillips backers see the abortion issue differently than Democratic leaders.
Steve Traher, a 69-year-old Democrat from Boston, Massachusetts who attended the New Hampshire primaries to show his support for Mr. Phillips, told The Epoch Times that, “President Biden and the Democratic Party in general are looking at abortion as their ticket to winning. I’m sorry but it’s not.”
Mr. Traher said the critical issues currently affecting Americans include immigration, the border crisis, and affordability. He said he supports Mr. Phillips’ stance on these matters and his proposals for solutions.
“Yes, inflation may be coming down. People can’t afford the rent, they can’t afford living,” he said.
Another Democrat, who preferred to remain anonymous, shared similar sentiments. He said he’s supporting Mr. Phillips because he believes the incumbent president has not adequately addressed critical issues, such as border security.
Additionally, he expressed skepticism about Mr. Biden’s argument that Republicans are solely responsible for the border crisis and for failing to provide sufficient funds.
The voter also voiced concern about the vice president’s lack of engagement on most pressing issues, asking, “And by the way, where is Kamala?”