Arizona poised to play pivotal role in 2024 elections after abortion ban ruling

There’s no state that political pundits will be watching more closely this fall than Arizona. Voters in one of the nation’s biggest electoral battlegrounds are set to determine the outcome of a tossup Senate race, a pair of close congressional seats, and the winner of its 11 Electoral College votes—and now a recent court ruling has ensured abortion will be an animating issue at the ballot box.

After the state Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to bring back a ban on the procedure, Arizona has effectively been thrust into the center of the national abortion debate that is expected to dominate the upcoming presidential election and once again test Republicans’ messaging strategy after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“I don’t think it can be overstated the impact this week’s ruling will have on the November election,” says Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based Republican strategist who predicts the key battleground state now leans blue. “Everything that you thought was conventional wisdom about Arizona was thrown out the window overnight.”

Democrats have already seized on the ruling to transform the 2024 race into another referendum on abortion rights, blaming former President Donald Trump for overturning the constitutional right to abortion and encouraging disaffected Democrats in the state to turn out in November. “This ruling is a result of the extreme agenda of Republican elected officials who are committed to ripping away women’s freedom,” said in a statement after the ruling. He has promised to codify the right to an abortion if re-elected with Democratic control of Congress.

Stacy Pearson, a Democratic strategist based in Arizona, says that Democrats have an opportunity to capitalize on the court ruling and convince undecided voters in the state, particularly women, that their candidates will support women’s reproductive rights. “The Supreme Court woke up folks that hadn’t been paying attention and that is not going to end well for Republicans,” Pearson says. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to travel to the state on Friday to emphasize the Biden Administration’s support for abortion rights.

“It will be the overarching issue of 2024,” Marson says, adding that Arizona Republicans in districts considered safe should now be worried that the abortion issue has made their districts competitive as the fight to regain reproductive rights has in recent years become one of the most potent issues in motivating Democrats to vote.

Abortion defining 2024 political races isn’t what most Republicans would prefer. , the expected GOP candidate in Arizona’s Senate race, attempted Tuesday to soften her stance on abortion when she came out against the Arizona Supreme Court ruling despite praising the same ban during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2022.

“Smart Republican campaigns will take the abortion issue off the table, and focus on hammering Democrats on the economy and border,” says a GOP consultant and Trump ally who requested anonymity to candidly discuss the candidates’ messaging strategies. Asked if Trump should stop taking credit for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the consultant replied: “We need to move on and focus on popular issues in the abortion debate—protecting [in vitro fertilization] IVF and child tax credits.”

But pivoting away from abortion in Arizona—and elsewhere—may be nearly impossible. Polling data shows that of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion in June 2022, and about 1 in 8 voters say that abortion is the most important issue driving their vote this fall, according to a recent .

Republicans have struggled to find a winning message on abortion that resonates with voters, and candidates have in almost every election where abortion was on the ballot. Marson says the abortion issue will likely be an “albatross around Trump’s neck” in the coming months as he attempts to woo moderate voters without isolating the conservative religious voters in the Republican Party. Trump on Monday , instead calling on states to set their own policies.

But two days later, he said that Arizona went too far: “I think it’ll be straightened out and, as you know, it’s all about state’s rights and it will be straightened out,” Trump said Wednesday at a campaign event in Atlanta. “I’m sure the governor and everybody else have got to bring it back into reason, and that it will be taken care of I think.”

Liberal organizers in the state are also trying to put abortion directly on the ballot. A measure that would enshrine abortion in the Arizona constitution has already gathered enough signatures to be placed on the ballot, the organizers say, giving Democrats another opportunity to protect abortion in the state. Several , including Florida and Maryland, will also have abortion petitions on the ballot in November.

Arizona is a critical state in the expected presidential contest between Biden and Trump. Biden helped secure his victory in 2020 by flipping Arizona, which had voted for Trump in 2016. And the Senate battle shaping up between Lake, an ardent Trump ally, and Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, could be decisive to the balance of power in Congress.

After Wednesday’s ruling, abortion is likely to influence each of those high-stakes contests. “It’s the white hot issue on November’s ballot,” Pearson says.