Five weeks after Election Day, on December 12th, Two other women’s groups came together in Phoenix to talk about how they voted.
They were a mix of Independent, Independent, and Republican voters, all of whom either split their ticket between Democrats and Republicans, voted for a Libertarian candidate, or left at least one race blank on their ballot. Her home district of Maricopa, one of the fastest-growing districts in the country, voted Democrats in a 2020 presidential campaign for the first time in decades.
The women were frustrated and embarrassed by the choice. They described Trump as a “central and unwelcome figure,” while others largely viewed Biden as a non-factor they didn’t blame for inflation or problems on the southern border.
But when it came to abortion, things got personal: When the presenter asked if the women themselves, or anyone they knew, had an unplanned pregnancy or abortion history, all hands in the room shot up.
For her, it wasn’t just about a medical procedure. “It’s about control, control of women and oppression of women,” said one independent voter.
“It’s a slippery slope,” said another, a Republican. “If you demand control here, where does that end?”
“Every single woman [who] Being in a relationship has seen the moment of delay,” said Jessica Pacheco, an Arizona-based Republican strategist. “It’s something that every woman can relate to, but it’s an intangible thing that’s hard to explain to men.”
The women were rallied by GOP strategists trying to clarify what happened in 2022. The focus groups, described in a memo obtained by POLITICO, were conducted by Republican pollster Nicole McCleskey — and they likely represent the first post-election data on how abortion has become a deciding factor in women’s voting choices in one suburban area in an embattled state.
“Apart from Trump,” the memo said, “abortion was THE central theme of the campaign.” What the women “considered to be extreme positions on abortion,” plus Trump’s “influence,” it said, “republican candidates have on many of these women except considered, including women who consider themselves hostile to life.”
The document pointed to some success stories, such as Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee and Maricopa County Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. But he was blunt in his assessment that GOP nominees Blake Masters for Senate and Kari Lake for governor were “the caricatures of extreme Republicans in this election, according to these women.”
Masters, who challenged Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), backtracked on his pro-abortion position during the general election and scrubbed “I am 100% pro-life” from his campaign website. Lake, who lost to governor-elect Katie Hobbs, struggled to pinpoint her position.
“Gone are the days when you could say, ‘I’m pro-life’, ‘I’m pro-choice’ and leave it at that. Because these labels are confusing, they mean different things to different people,” Pacheco said. “To win, you need to go through your values and what the issue means to you.”
Without turnip, Republicans now face a series of existential questions between now and 2024: Do they unify around a national abortion ban like Graham’s bill? Are anti-abortion activists pushing for even tighter restrictions nationwide? Or do they let candidates determine their own positions?
An open presidential primary could help define the contours of the party’s position. However, some GOP staffers argue that it may be best to play this out from race to race so candidates can adjust based on their personal beliefs and the values of their particular state or district.
Still others say Republicans need to turn the issue to Democrats, arguing that abortion with few or no limits is the extreme position.
At the same time, Republicans privately admit that there is a broad unease about addressing the issue, in part because it deals with deeply personal, often religious, beliefs.
“I think some of my male colleagues don’t and don’t see it [abortion] as the main factor [in 2022]but i think when campaigns had women on them [campaign] Teams, women at the table, I think these candidates handled and communicated the issue better,” said Amanda Iovino, a Republican pollster who worked on Youngkin’s 2021 campaign. She cited other successful anti-abortion rights candidates, including Rep.-Elect Jen Kiggans (R-Va.) and Nevada Governor-Elect Joe Lombardo, as well as Youngkin.
“They understood it was going to be a factor and they had to find a way to respond to that,” she continued. “Abortion has always been an Achilles’ heel for Republicans speaking to independent women. It’s really difficult … but with good candidates who are well educated and know how to talk about it, I think we can still pull the thread together.”
Alice Miranda Ollstein and Zach Montellaro contributed to this report.