Abortion opponents knocked on doors, made phone calls and distributed fliers in support of Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback, and leaders of both major parties said Thursday that their efforts helped the two Republican incumbents late in tough re-election races.
Anti-abortion groups claimed some credit for the victories by Roberts over independent candidate Greg Orman and Brownback over Democratic challenger Paul Davis in contests that had appeared to be toss-ups going into Tuesday’s election. Orman described himself as “pro-choice” in a televised debate, while Davis compiled a strong abortion-rights voting record as a Kansas House member.
Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, was skeptical of abortion foes’ claiming credit. She said the issue remained largely in the background – even with Orman’s mention of it in a debate – so that anti-abortion groups can’t claim a mandate for their policies.
But if their issue wasn’t dominant in the campaigns, abortion opponents still were visible through slick mailings, fliers on car windshields, personal voter contacts and phone calls. In one phone message recorded by the National Right to Life Committee, a woman implored, “When you vote, please be a vote for the babies.”
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“They’ve got one heck of a ground game,” said Chapman Rackaway, a Fort Hays State University political science professor. “They certainly had a role in this.”
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said it did two mailings during the general election campaign to 320,000 households each and made a similar number of phone calls.
It also dropped 75,000 pieces of literature, including on car windshields outside churches on the Sunday before the election. Its political action committee spent $69,000 on state-election activities, including $29,000 on mailers for Brownback during the last week of October.
Another anti-abortion group, Women Speak Out PAC, said it knocked on 26,000 doors and made 73,000 phone calls against Orman, starting in mid-October. A Federal Election Commission online database said it spent $250,000 on its efforts, and two groups linked to the National Right to Life Committee spent another $109,000.
Roberts and Brownback are strong abortion opponents, and Culp said the differences between them and their opponents were “crystal clear.”
“We wouldn’t have any power at all if people didn’t care, but people do care,” Culp said.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon said she gives some credit to Kansans for Life and other abortion opponents for making themselves a factor in the election results.
Clay Barker, the state GOP’s executive director, said: “It probably helped because sometimes the KFL voters, they may not have the highest voting propensity, but if somebody energizes them to get out, they’ll come out and vote.”
Planned Parenthood’s state PAC reported spending about $25,000 on campaign-related activities from late July through late October. It also made 15,000 phone calls and sent 4,500 mailers. The NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC also reported spending $28,000 in September on anti-Brownback activities.
McQuade, of Planned Parenthood, said Brownback largely kept women’s health care issues “under wraps.” An exchange between Orman and Roberts about abortion in their last televised debate in October made headlines, but McQuade called it only “a moment in time.”
But she said abortion opponents claiming credit for the election victories is “business as usual.”
“For them, everything is about this issue,” she said. “Everything is claiming victory.”