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Richard Hudson, Mike Johnson, Elise Stefanik

The GOP preps an anti-abortion message. Will it work?

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — After getting outspent and out-messaged on abortion rights during the 2022 midterm elections, House Republican leadership knows the issue is a major problem for their candidates in 2024. Instead of trying to ignore the battle over abortion access, the topic has come up time and again during the GOP retreat this week.

The GOP solution? Urge Republicans in tough races to aggressively confront Democratic attacks and define their own positions on the campaign trail. But it remains to be seen whether tackling the issue head-on will blunt Democratic gains.

NRCC Chair Richard Hudson insisted to us in an interview that Republicans have a “branding problem” on abortion rights, not a policy problem.

“Most voters think Republicans’ position is a very narrow, extreme position, which it’s not,” Hudson said. “There is no one Republican position. A lot of candidates have a lot of different positions, from states’ rights to reasonable limits.”

Hudson was expanding on an NRCC memo first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The guidance to candidates — which Hudson said was backed up by polling and focus groups in battleground districts — echoed what the NRCC chair told reporters in the fall.

The problem for Republicans: Public polling has shown the electorate largely favors increased access to abortion.

A recent Quinnipiac poll from the crucial swing state of Michigan found two-thirds of voters think abortion should be legal in either all cases or most cases. Just 28% of respondents polled said abortion should be illegal in either most cases or all cases.

In November, a WSJ-NORC poll found nationwide support for abortion access nearing a record high.

With numbers like this, will better messaging really make a difference? House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik thinks so.

“We believe it’s important for our members to engage on this issue and not stick their heads in the sand, which I think some potential candidates had done in the past,” Stefanik told reporters at the retreat.

Beyond encouraging candidates to speak about their own abortion stances, leadership wants the party to go on the attack.

“It’s Democrats who are the radicals on this. They want taxpayer-funded abortions. They want to repeal the Hyde Amendment and they support late-term abortion,” Stefanik said.

Of course, voters didn’t agree with that point of view in 2022.

And Democrats argue they are simply seeking to codify Roe into law. The party’s messaging doesn’t delve into any restrictions on abortion. Instead, Democrats say those decisions are best left to women and their doctors, not politicians.

How vulnerable Republicans will message: GOP incumbents like Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) said they expect to tell voters on the trail that abortion policy isn’t the purview of the federal government.

“Democrats are going to try and make it an issue, but it’s a non-issue. I think states are dealing with it at the state level,” Duarte told us.

– Mica Soellner and Max Cohen

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