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Will Abortion Politics Put Florida Back in Play?

Democrats hope an abortion measure gives Biden a chance, but the Sunshine State remains pretty red. The outcome of the presidential race, meanwhile, may turn on a vote in Nebraska.

Abortion rights supporters rally in Tampa in 2023
The Florida Supreme Court allowed an abortion rights amendment onto the November ballot this week. Abortion initiatives may appear in as many as a dozen states.
Aya Diab/TNS
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Will Abortion Politics Put Florida Back in Play?: On Monday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that initiatives seeking to protect abortion rights and legalize recreational marijuana can appear on the November ballot. That immediately led to cheering among Democrats on social media and claims from President Biden’s campaign that Florida is winnable for them, or at least will now cost Republicans a lot more to defend. “Abortion is to Republicans what immigration is to Democrats,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida. “If they’re talking about it, they’re losing.”

Abortion clearly remains a cornerstone issue for Democrats. Abortion rights initiatives may appear in as many as a dozen states this year. On Tuesday alone, abortion rights supporters announced they’d surpassed the numbers of signatures needed to quality for ballots in Arizona and Nevada. Still, there are reasons to doubt abortion will change the presidential outcome in Florida or other states.

One explanation for the success of abortion rights measures in recent years has been the fact that they’ve received significant support from Republicans. In Florida, roughly 15 percent of the signatures collected for the abortion measure came from registered Republicans. Will they cross to the Democratic side and vote for Biden? Unlikely. And it’s far from certain that even hot issues such as abortion or marijuana are enough to drive turnout all that much, at least in a presidential year.

There are in fact people who seldom vote but can be motivated by issue questions, notably abortion and marijuana, says Craig Burnett, a Hofstra University political scientist who studies ballot measures. Their numbers won’t be huge, but they could be significant enough to make a difference if the race ends up being tight. It will be tough for campaign strategists to guess how these low-propensity voters will act when it comes to presidential voting, Burnett suggests. “It boils down to, this is marginal,” he says, “but it could have a surprise effect of a couple of percentage points.”

It's clear that Biden and Democrats in Florida in general can use some help. Back in 2000, the state was effectively tied, putting the presidential election results in doubt for a month. After Barack Obama narrowly carried the state in 2008 and 2012, Donald Trump won it by a single percentage point in 2016, but expanded his margin to a relatively comfortable three percentage points in 2020. The state has only grown redder since, with the GOP’s advantage among registered voters getting near 1 million.

GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis won a resounding 19-percentage point re-election victory in 2022 in part because Democratic turnout fell through the floor. Last month, Florida Democrats may have lost some local elections because they canceled the presidential primary. “It’s Politics 101 – you’ve got to give people a reason to show up and vote,” says Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida.

The abortion and marijuana initiatives will give Floridians added incentive to vote. At the same time it approved the abortion measure, Florida’s Supreme Court also upheld an abortion law, allowing the state’s six-week ban to take effect in 30 days. It’s a level of restriction that Trump made clear he’d rather not comment on.

So, on balance, having these measures on the ballot will help drive turnout in a way that should help Democrats, or at least not hurt them. “It definitely makes them more competitive than if it hadn’t been on the ballot,” Jewett says. “Now, does Biden have a chance of beating Trump in Florida? Maybe – but realistically not.”
The presidential vote in Omaha will either not matter or potentially decide everything.
Suzanne Tucker/TNS
As Goes Omaha: Suddenly, it’s a live and important question whether Biden and Trump will be competing at all in Omaha. Biden carried Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District in 2020. That didn’t affect the outcome then, but it could be decisive this year.

Nebraska, along with Maine, awards electoral votes by congressional district. On Tuesday, Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen, a Republican, urged passage of a bill to grant all electoral votes to the statewide victor. “It would bring Nebraska into line with 48 of our fellow states, better reflect the Founders’ intent and ensure our state speaks with one unified voice in presidential elections,” Pillen said.

Trump echoed Pillen’s call. No wonder. This seemingly small change could have a monumental effect. If Biden loses Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, while winning every other state he carried four years ago, he would need the Nebraska electoral vote in order to win. Under this scenario, if the law changes and Trump wins all five electoral votes from Nebraska, the result would be a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College, which would throw the contest to the U.S. House. Each state there would cast a single vote. With Republicans controlling more delegations, Trump would presumably win.

Perhaps Democrats in Maine could respond by changing their law as well. Biden will likely win the state, but Trump will be favored to repeat his success in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

As of now, however, supporters of the winner-take-all proposal in Nebraska lack the votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
Travis Kelce at the 2024 Super Bowl
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce dons his helmet during warm-ups before Super Bowl LVIII.
Nick Wagner/TNS
Tough Times for Stadium Supporters: A $2 billion proposal to extend a sales tax to fund stadiums went down to defeat in Kansas City on Tuesday. It was among a set of recent setbacks for proponents of using public funds to subsidize such venues.

Last week, the group that owns the Wizards and Capitals basketball and hockey teams announced a deal to stay in Washington, D.C., after its plans to move to Virginia ran into a roadblock in the form of state Sen. Louise Lucas, a Democrat who kept subsidies for it out of Virginia’s budget. And plans for a downtown basketball arena in Philadelphia received a vote of no confidence on Tuesday from an advisory panel that called the proposal “undercooked.” “I don’t think as a city we just need to accept this as our fate,” said committee member Ashley DiCaro.

Jackson County voters rejected the Kansas City sales tax measure, 58 to 42 percent. The money would have gone to renovate Arrowhead Stadium, where the Super Bowl champion Chiefs play, as well as a new downtown stadium for the Royals. Although there was the usual rhetoric about whether citizens should be underwriting billionaires, the measure may have failed because the Royals, in particular, were not clear about their overall plans regarding downtown development.

"The people of Kansas City and Jackson County love the Chiefs and the Royals,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who’d given a late endorsement to the measure. “Today, they rejected plans and processes they found inadequate.”

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Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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