Abortion on the ballot in Montana may boost Democrats - TAI News
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Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana CEO Martha Fuller, Representative Laura Smith (HD-79), and former State Senator Diane Sands outlined Sheehy’s determination to strip away the freedoms of Montana women. June 24, 2024. (Montana Democrats)

The record of similar issues across the nation would suggest that the apparent success of a petition drive to place abortion rights on Montana’s November ballot is good news for the Democrats whose names will appear in that same space. But beyond that experience elsewhere, there are a couple of factors unique to Montana that promise a boost.

The issue has been a magic bullet for Democrats since it rose to the fore in 2022 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade. Since then, voters in six states — California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Vermont, and Ohio — have weighed in to approve ballot measures ensuring the right to abortion.

The issue has bled over into electoral politics. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has cited it as a major factor in her electoral success. The issue loomed large in Wisconsin’s pivotal Supreme Court race that elected the liberal candidate Janet Protaswiecz, but larger still in the 2022 midterms, when Democrats performed much better than polling suggested they would. Analysis of that result says Democrats got a significant tailwind from the abortion issue.

The reason for all of this is relatively straightforward. Voters, especially women, are more likely to turn out and vote when the issue is on the ballot and Democratic candidates, more often than not, favor abortion rights. 

That would seem to apply to Montana this year, with hotly contested races for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Jon Tester and for governor and two U.S. House seats. Tester is a strong supporter of abortion rights and has a long track record on the issue, while his opponent, Republican Tim Sheehy, is backed by the very groups campaigning against abortion rights.

The incumbent Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, is a staunch Christian nationalist, opposes abortion rights, and has an established history of supporting anti-abortion groups such as Montana Family Foundation with large donations from his personal fortune. His opponent, Ryan Busse, is forthrightly pro-choice. One of his first acts was to select Raph Graybill as his running mate. Graybill was the lawyer for the coalition that brought the abortion issue to the ballot.

The Democratic House candidate in the 1st District, Monica Tranel, a supporter of abortion rights, has said in interviews that the issue is pivotal in her campaign. Her opponent, incumbent Rep. Ryan Zinke, is largely aligned with his fellow Republicans. So is Republican Troy Downing, while his Democratic opponent in the race for the 2nd Congressional District, John Driscoll, opposes a federal ban on abortion. All of this leaves very little ambiguity. There is a clear partisan alignment on the issue at the top of the ballot.

The more interesting factor, though, is wound up in the petition drive to place the issue on the ballot. Backers had a very short time to obtain the signatures because court challenges delayed the start of the campaign. They had to meet state requirements to gather signatures in every state House district, meaning they had to recruit volunteers to push petitions in remote rural conservative communities. They still managed to obtain twice as many signatures as needed. All of this suggests enthusiasm and a built network of volunteers that will come into play in November to turn out the vote.

“There is a huge movement of people who are 100% committed to doing the work on the ground,” Tranel said in an interview. “It fires me up. It gives me energy.”

Martha Fuller, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, a key player in the coalition of backers of the petition, appeared at a Democratic Party press conference shortly after the end of the petition drive to take particular aim at Sheehy.

“We cannot let Tim Sheehy, and other Republicans, be elected to office this November. We have seen the damage they have already done across the country and plan to do right here in Montana. We must stand together and show them that they can not take away our reproductive freedom,” Fuller said.

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