HomePoliticsFlorida Democrats condemn Biden's politicization of abortion election efforts

Florida Democrats condemn Biden’s politicization of abortion election efforts

Florida Democrats, fearing politicization will derail a ballot measure to protect abortion in November, are warning the president Joe Biden‘s campaign not to alienate Republicans.

The Biden campaign already declared Florida “winnable” and launched digital ads in Florida Donald Trump bragging about falling over Roe v. Wade and held a phone call with reporters to put the former president on the spot on the issue. All of this could drive away Republican voters who are crucial to passing the abortion protection initiative.

“I wish they hadn’t done that,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who previously worked for Planned Parenthood, said of the Biden campaign’s various efforts now in Florida.

“I would expect them to support the initiative, but it’s smart to let locals take the lead on this,” she added, saying she worried that using the issue to target Democratic candidates encouraging — rather than creating a “multi-partisan effort” — would result in Abortion remains largely illegal in Florida.

The campaign to put abortion access on the ballot, led by the Floridians Protecting Freedom Committee, reached the state threshold of more than 891,000 state-certified voter signatures late last year. After the Florida Supreme Court ruled Monday that the ballot initiative can go before voters in November, the campaign essentially has six months to build support — 60 percent of voters must approve it before it passes. They have to do it in a state where Republicans have outnumbered Democrats by nearly 900,000 voters.

And for the fans, the stakes are incredibly high. While the Supreme Court ruled that voters will have a say in abortion protections, the court also upheld a 15-week abortion ban, which will lead to a near-total ban beginning May 1.

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Democratic Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, who is involved in organizing the abortion ballot campaign, said that while the measure appears to be a strong opportunity for Democrats to win other elections, many of the roughly 1 million voters who signed petitions seeking support for the initiative was Republican.

“This language was supported by Republicans and independents,” Book said. “Although it is deeply political, I had Republican women next to me collecting petitions because they felt the Legislature was going too far.”

Some Democrats acknowledge that they must delicately balance the issue not only to survive the election but also to keep abortion legal. At a news conference with Democrats in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, U.S. House Democrats emphasized the importance of the issue being apolitical — even as they repeatedly warned that Trump’s election in November, coupled with a Republican majority in Congress, would result in a nationwide abortion ban. (Trump’s campaign has said he wants states to decide the issue.)

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) predicted the amendment would pass thanks to a broad coalition of voters, adding that Democrats would “encourage them to also vote for candidates who support abortion rights.” She warned in a brief interview with POLITICO that without electing a strong group of Democratic lawmakers, anti-abortion lawmakers would try to scrap the abortion amendment against the will of voters.

“We will be able to show voters: These are people who wanted to interfere with your personal decisions about private health care,” she said. “They did it and they will do it again even if you decide we have abortion rights in our Constitution.”

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Lauren Brenzel, director of the referendum abortion campaign, proclaimed “Yes on 4” and said the push to enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution should not be conflated with political races.

“We are focused on making it clear to voters what decision is at stake: should the government make these decisions for doctors and women, or not?” Brenzel wrote in a text. “Floridians of every party, including Republicans, do not want politicians making these decisions for them.”

Although the Biden campaign is playing into Florida’s hands this week, the extent of investment in the state remains murky. Part of the strategy could be to just talk about Florida often enough to force the less-funded Trump campaign to spend money in the state, rather than making a genuine, all-out bid to win it in November .

And while the Biden campaign released a new digital ad about abortion in Florida, campaign officials did not say how much they were spending on the ad, only that the money came from the total $30 million spent on battlefield ads. states this spring.

The campaign also announced a Florida state team last week, though Trump named a director for Florida last summer. Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez did not specifically address whether the president would now increase his trips to Florida when asked directly by a reporter on Tuesday.

“We are clear about how difficult it will be to win Florida,” she said, “but we also know that Trump doesn’t have it in the bag.”

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Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates and a member of Floridians Protecting Freedom, said even without cash, droves of women from both parties showed their support after stricter abortion bans were signed into law. Floridians Protecting Freedom raised about $16 million by the end of the year when it submitted the final signatures of its constituents to county election supervisors. A separate ballot initiative seeking to legalize marijuana spent $39 million to achieve similar results.

Goodhue said she hoped this kind of support would continue through November as Planned Parenthood helps provide abortion access in the Southeast. Until the six-week ban takes effect, Florida will remain a bastion for women seeking abortions from neighboring states with stricter restrictions.

“There’s a focus on the South, period, and there’s a focus on the underserved,” Goodhue said. “We need to maintain access to Florida.”

On the plus side for state Democrats, they think attention to the issue could bring national Democrats much-needed money to help carry the campaign, Book said. White House aides initially warned that the ballot initiative would not survive Florida’s conservative climate, she added.

“There were people in the White House who told us, ‘We don’t want you to take charge of this because we don’t believe this is going to happen,’” Book said. “Here we are today and I know the Biden campaign has made a commitment and those resources are coming.”

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