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Dems Zero-In on Abortion in Michigan’s Senate Battle
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Dems Zero-In on Abortion in Michigan’s Senate Battle

The Biden campaign begins outreach to ‘Haley Republicans.’

Happy Friday! Fridays always tend to be happy, because, well, it’s Friday. But this Friday is happier than most because baseball is back, proving that no matter what else is going wrong in the United States of America, as reported now and then in this newsletter, some things are still going right. We’re taking Monday off and will return next Wednesday. Wishing everyone who celebrates a happy and blessed Easter.

Up to Speed

  • President Joe Biden raised $25 million for his reelection bid Thursday during a fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in New York City headlined by former Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The massive haul, which the Biden campaign says is the most ever for a single event, surpassed presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s fundraising total for the month of February, and adds to the significant financial advantage for Democrats heading into the November election.
  • Lara Trump told NBC News in an interview this week that the Republican National Committee is not focused on grievances about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, putting the RNC co-chair at odds with Trump, her father-in-law and the GOP standard bearer. “I think we’re past that,” she said. “I think that’s in the past. We learned a lot. Certainly, we took a lot of notes.” Donald Trump continues to complain that Biden’s victory was illegitimate and insists the issue is relevant to his 2024 comeback bid. Indeed, the Washington Post reported this week that prospective RNC employees are being asked in interviews if they believe the 2020 election was stolen, as a hiring litmus test.
  • Speaking of NBC News and top RNC officials, former committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, whom the network fired Tuesday after an internal uproar over her hiring as an on-air political contributor, is seeking the full $600,000 she agreed to in her contract, according to Politico. McDaniel has reportedly spoken to Bryan Friedman, a lawyer who represented Megyn Kelly in her departure from NBC, as well as Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo, and Tucker Carlson when they were fired from CNN and Fox News, respectively.
  • Former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who served in the body as both a Democrat and an independent, died Wednesday at age 82 because of complications from a fall, his family announced. A staunchly independent politician, Lieberman was Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 presidential election, and was nearly Republican Sen. John McCain’s choice for vice president in 2008. Both Democrats and Republicans eulogized Lieberman, who was the founding chairman of No Labels, a centrist group attempting to field a unity ticket in this year’s presidential contest.
  • The Republican-controlled legislature in Kentucky on Thursday passed a bill that requires vacant U.S. Senate seats to be filled via special elections, removing the governor from the process. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear can veto the law, but it passed the legislature with a veto-proof majority. The old state law gave the governor authority to choose a new senator from among three picks submitted by the previous or outgoing senator’s party. The legislation comes amid health concerns for Mitch McConnell, 82, who is stepping down as the Senate’s Republican leader this fall and plans to retire from office when his term expires in 2027. Over the past year McConnell has suffered from health issues, including freezing up in the middle of a news conference.
  • The Federal Election Commission is mulling regulatory changes to make it easier for candidates and incumbent officeholders to use campaign funds to pay for personal security. Currently, the FEC must approve requests to do so on a case-by-case basis, with members of Congress who are usually granted permission. But as threats to politicians have spiked, a proposed rule from the agency would allow all federal candidates to use the funds for their personal safety needs without requesting prior approval. “The bottom line is I don’t want anybody to get killed trying to run for office, or trying to serve the country,” FEC Chair Sean Cooksey told Politico in a report published Wednesday.

Abortion Central to Michigan Senate Race

U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin marches in the Detroit Labor Day Parade on September 4, 2023, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin marches in the Detroit Labor Day Parade on September 4, 2023, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Abortion is poised to dictate the outcome of a key U.S. Senate race in Michigan, with a pitched battle for an open seat in the Wolverine State potentially tipping control of the chamber in November.

Senate Democrats are on their heels, defending a threadbare 51-49 Senate majority in a collection of red states and up-for-grabs battlegrounds like Michigan. There, in a contest expected to pit Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin against Republican former Rep. Mike Rogers, the debate over abortion access is already having an outsized impact on what is unfolding as a toss-up campaign, political operatives on both sides of the aisle tell Dispatch Politics.

“His record on abortion is pretty rough,” a Democratic source familiar with Slotkin campaign strategy said of Rogers. “There’s a lot of citations and data points that put him pretty squarely on the wrong side of that issue in a state that voted for Proposition 3 by 57 percent in 2022.” (Proposal 3—a ballot referendum voters approved 57 percent to 43 percent in the 2022 midterm elections, enshrined in the Michigan Constitution the right to access an abortion up until the viability of the fetus.)

Rogers has recently sought to distance himself from his record of opposition to abortion rights, suggesting the Republican believes he could be vulnerable on the issue. The former congressman has said he would not sponsor in the Senate, as he did in the House, such bills as the Life at Conception Act of 2013, which would have mandated that humans have the right to life from the moment of fertilization.

Yet the Rogers campaign claims it is not worried about Democratic attacks on his previous votes to restrict abortion, saying Proposal 3 made access to the procedure the law of the land in Michigan and removed the issue from contention in the 2024 Senate race.

“That ballot initiative did pass. It is now in the state constitution. It is not going anywhere,” a Republican operative familiar with the Rogers campaign’s strategy said. “And I don’t know of a single Republican runner in the state who has gone and said they would support any national laws on that, and I know Mike was adamant that he supported the decision for it to go back to the states because he thinks that those decisions are best made by the government closest to you.”

Abortion has a recent history of swaying big statewide contests. In 2022, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican challenger Tudor Dixon by more than 10 percentage points—despite President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, skyrocketing inflation, high gas prices, and concerns about public safety. Voter unease over abortion access in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade is credited with boosting Whitmer.

The 2024 election is shaping up similarly. Biden’s job approval ratings have remained stubbornly subpar, and now the president finds himself trailing presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in Michigan in most recent public opinion polls. Naturally, Democrats in Michigan are again turning to abortion to overcome political headwinds stemming from economics and border security, hoping the same playbook that worked two years ago delivers an encore performance. 

“Democrats are going to attempt to make abortion into a top issue in Michigan, because: 1) they can’t win on these other issues with Joe Biden, and 2) they look back at the 2022 cycle in Michigan where Democrats won bigger than maybe in any other state,” said Ted Goodman, a former Michigan Republican Party communications director who now advises former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Meanwhile, Democrats also are trying to make an issue of the fact that Rogers still has to fend off opponents in the GOP primary—despite having been endorsed by Trump and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Rogers is the favorite for the nomination since receiving the former president’s backing. Indeed, Republican voters like him even more when they learn he is backed by Trump, although former Reps. Justin Amash and Peter Meijer, and wealthy businessman Sandy Pensler, have not exited the race. (Slotkin’s path to the Democratic nomination appears smooth.)

But Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Maeve Coyle insists the “radioactive, expensive” GOP primary will “leave their eventual nominee deeply damaged.” Democratic operatives in Michigan are making similar arguments.

“The Michigan Republican Senate primary is getting even nastier as Republicans continue to bash each other,” Michigan Democratic Party spokesperson Sam Chan said. “Their chaotic intra-party fight is guaranteed to leave them with a badly-damaged nominee who is out of touch with working Michiganders.”

The Slotkin and Rogers campaigns declined to comment.

Biden Courtship of Haley Voters Underway

President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign has begun a concerted bid to win over Republican voters who supported Nikki Haley over Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary, with the goal of putting a major dent in the former president’s coalition. Contrast that with Trump, who, as the New York Times reported, is making no such effort. 

The day Nikki Haley suspended her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Rufus Gifford, a national finance chairman for President Joe Biden’s reelection bid, invited the former South Carolina governor’s supporters to join the incumbent Democrat’s effort to defeat Donald Trump. Thomas Howes, executive director of a new group, The Reagan Caucus, immediately responded. 

The two struck up a conversation, and soon after, Howes, who by day is a liberal arts lecturer at Princeton University, had organized a WhatsApp group chat with Gifford and eight other politically engaged Republicans who had backed Haley over Trump in the 2024 GOP primary. And so began the first direct, high-level courtship between a senior Biden campaign official and Republican activists and voters who pulled the lever for the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“Rufus was very kind and took our counsel very seriously. That impressed us,” Howes, whose group is registered as a super PAC with the Federal Election Commission, told The Dispatch this week in a text message exchange. “It was very clear Biden’s people are focused on persuading people like us.” As Gifford later posted on X: “My favorite new WhatsApp group I was just added to is called “‘Haley Supporters for Biden.’”

Notable and Quotable

“We take our notes from Donald Trump. He is the head of this party, and however he positions himself on that, we will certainly follow.”

—RNC Co-Chair Lara Trump in her NBC News interview this week, in response to a question about America’s role in the war in Ukraine.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Charles Hilu is a reporter for The Dispatch based in Virginia. Before joining the company in 2024, he was the Collegiate Network Fellow at the Washington Free Beacon and interned at both National Review and the Washington Examiner. When he is not writing and reporting, he is probably listening to show tunes or following the premier sports teams of the University of Michigan and city of Detroit.