Tuesday, June 25

Opinion | ‘Fix the Damn Roads’: How Democrats in Purple and Red States Win

She has created an Office of Rural Prosperity within the Kansas Commerce Department. Just before our conversation, I read a transcript of the State of the State remarks that she delivered a few weeks earlier. It focused largely on jobs, and the word “rural” showed up 43 times, including in the characterization of “rural Kansas” as “fundamental to our identity.” The word “abortion” showed up precisely zero times, which I noticed mainly because the issue was front and center in Kansas just a year and a half earlier, when voters there rejected a measure to remove the right to abortion from the state’s Constitution.

I mentioned that omission.

“Not an accident,” she said. “I am and always have been a pro-choice human being,” she continued, but she determined over the years that raising such “a very divisive issue” with constituents when she wasn’t absolutely compelled to didn’t make sense. “It wasn’t a way that they were going to hear me any better, and it wasn’t a way to find common ground,” she said.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, the defense of legal abortion has unquestionably given Democrats an advantage over Republicans, and Democratic lawmakers in red and purple states don’t shrink from it. But “since the Supreme Court overturned” is crucial, because only then did some Americans fully realize that the abortion debate wasn’t an abstract, ideological one: It concerned a fundamental freedom for women. It affected critical medical care.

“The prospect of Republicans banning abortion was not a big winner for Democrats until Republicans actually started banning abortions,” Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, told me. “Voters are used to hearing about how apocalyptic the other side is. You have to have actual evidence.” The Roe reversal — and cases like those of Kate Cox, who was carrying a fetus with a deadly chromosomal abnormality and had to leave Texas to end her pregnancy — enables Democrats to discuss abortion rights in blunt, concrete, visceral terms.

“For too long, we’ve made politics too flashy, too Hollywood,” Austin Davis, Pennsylvania’s Democratic lieutenant governor, told me. He was on the ticket with Shapiro, and he explained that their formula for victory was not to be “wrapped up in what’s going on on MSNBC, on CNN, in some local coffee shop that’s 90 percent Democratic. Most people don’t live in those echo chambers.”