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Brian Lawless/Press Association via AP Images

Votes are counted in Dublin. (Brian Lawless/Press Association via AP Images)


Irish eyes are crying

Pro-lifers regroup after Ireland aborts protections for the unborn

Ireland voted May 25 to repeal the 8th Amendment to its constitution, effectively paving the way for legal abortion in the traditionally Catholic country. With voter turnout up to 70 percent in some counties, two-thirds of voters said “Yes” to repeal the amendment, returning power to legislate on abortion to the government and stripping the unborn of their rights.

In 1983, as many Western European countries were legalizing abortion, Ireland passed the 8th Amendment by a two-thirds majority. The amendment, which embedded equal legal rights for an unborn child and her mother into the republic’s constitution, was an example and inspiration to pro-life movements worldwide for 35 years.

While many Irish women “traveled” to the U.K. for an abortion, pro-life groups said the 8th Amendment had saved over 100,000 Irish lives by giving a mother time to rethink a decision to abort and find needed support. Pro-abortion forces lobbied since 1983, but the last 10 years saw an even greater push to legalize abortion. After Savita Halappanavar died of pregnancy-related sepsis in a Galway hospital in 2014, pro-abortion groups quickly politicized the tragedy for the cause of liberalizing abortion access.

Independent investigations found hospital malpractice—not lack of access to abortion—caused Halappanavar’s death, but the case garnered public sympathy for “hard cases” that heavily influenced the May vote’s outcome. Another highly publicized case involved a minor rape victim restricted from traveling to England for an abortion.

Grassroots pro-life efforts faced an uphill battle, with a Yes campaign led by the government and heavily supported by the media. The No side also suffered from vandalism of posters and took a heavy blow a few weeks before the vote when Facebook and Google banned referendum ads. Television ads were not permitted.

Media in Ireland and abroad, meanwhile, portrayed the Roman Catholic Church as archaic and its influence as waning, especially in light of sexual scandals involving clergy in recent years. The church, while officially against abortion, was not a strong voice in the debate. Many saw a yes vote as a means of more closely aligning the country with the EU in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Amnesty International poured funds into the country in favor of repeal.

Up to the day of the vote, polls predicted an almost even split, making the subsequent 2-to-1 margin all the more disappointing for the No side. The day after, the Save the 8th organization vowed to fight on and posted on its website: “What Irish voters did yesterday is a tragedy of historic proportions. However, a wrong does not become right simply because a majority support it.” Spokeswoman Mary Kenny—who credits the 8th Amendment with saving her own daughter’s life—said pro-life organizations realize their voice is now needed more than ever. They are already making plans to make crisis pregnancy counseling available in each county.

As he campaigned, Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar promised to bring legislation before Parliament before year’s end, but in the days following the vote Health Minister Simon Harris vowed to introduce the new laws before the summer vacation. The proposed legislation would allow abortion on demand up to 12 weeks, and up to six months in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormality, and the “health of the mother.” Because the definition of “health” remains vague, Irish pro-lifers fear it eventually may include mental health and depression, widening the door to a more liberal abortion policy.

While The Irish Times said that the Yes victory was definitive and called for an end to the fight, pro-life legislators vow to fight the abortion laws in Parliament.

In the wake of Ireland’s vote, pro-abortion forces demanded that Northern Ireland also legalize abortion. While politically part of the U.K., Northern Ireland has pro-life laws. In early June the U.K. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal to overturn the laws protecting Northern Ireland’s unborn children.

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Blankenship: Alex Wong/Getty Images • Rohrabacher: Paul Zinken/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP

Protesters (left) hold signs as Blankenship prepares to testify in 2010 regarding a coal mining explosion; Rohrabacher (right). (Blankenship: Alex Wong/Getty Images • Rohrabacher: Paul Zinken/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP)


Eyes on the primaries

Flawed campaigns now may decide which party wins—or loses—in the fall 

Primary election season is now upon us. State after state will hold its party nomination contests over the next five months starting in May. While most nominees will be fair representatives of the respective parties, occasionally parties nominate candidates whose personal problems or extreme political stances cause them to lose eminently winnable races. California’s unique rules also pose a problem for Democrats trying to unseat some of the state’s seven GOP members of Congress holding seats carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Avoiding those self-inflicted wounds will be job No. 1 for each party over the summer.

Republicans recall with horror how flawed nominees cost their party five very winnable Senate seats in 2010 and 2012. Sometimes the issue was political extremism and maladroitness, as with the case of Nevada ultraconservative Sharron Angle, who lost to Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid in 2010. Sometimes it’s sheer wackiness, as with the case of self-described witchcraft “dabbler” Christine O’Donnell, who beat liberal Republican favorite Michael Castle in Delaware’s 2010 U.S. Senate primary only to crash and burn against Democrat Chris Coons.

In 2012 the problem was statements socially conservative nominees made about abortion during the races. Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock had defeated incumbent Richard Lugar during the primary, and still looked set to win a Senate seat until a debate on Oct. 23. His statement that pregnancy arising from rape was something “God intended to happen” was meant to explain why he opposed abortion even in the case of rape, but it took on a life of its own. Polls taken before the debate showed Mourdock ahead of or tied with his Democratic opponent, but those taken afterward showed him losing by double digits. Joe Donnelly, who is running for reelection this year, won by 6 percentage points.

So far Republican candidates in targeted Senate races appear to be normal conservatives. The one glaring exception was West Virginia’s Don Blankenship. Blankenship is a former coal mine owner who was sentenced to a year in prison for his role in a deadly mine explosion in 2010. He has also attacked Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s Chinese-American father-in-law, and even recently labeled McConnell “cocaine Mitch” because of an incident involving cocaine smuggling on a ship registered to the father-in-law’s company (there’s no evidence the father-in-law, much less McConnell, was involved in that). He lost in the GOP primary on May 8, giving Republicans hope that they can defeat Democrat Joe Manchin in November.

Democratic problems in California stem from the Golden State’s unique “top two” primary system. California runs a primary in June and the top two candidates advance to general election regardless of the party they identify with. Thus, it is possible two Republicans could take the top two slots in seats Democrats are targeting, freezing them out of the general election entirely.

In California’s 48th District, 30-year Republican incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has come under fire for his pro-Russian views, and Democrats think he is vulnerable. So much so that eight Democrats filed against him, at least five of which initially raised enough money to be taken seriously. But a serious Republican challenger also emerged, former Assemblyman Scott Baugh. The prospect that Baugh and Rohrabacher could take the top two slots has already caused two of the Democrats to unofficially withdraw, although their names will still be on the ballots. But unless another Democrat drops out, it’s still possible that Democrats will divide their vote three ways while Republicans divide their votes only two ways, ensuring that a Republican will hold the seat in the general election.

Smart politicos know that the most important votes don’t always happen in November. The real campaign season is kicking off now, and what happens in the spring and summer often determines who wins in the fall.

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Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via AP

Judge Rebecca Dallet with her daughters (Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via AP)


Badger State blues

Democratic win in Wisconsin says a little, not a lot, about November

We have another blue tsunami warning. Rebecca Dallet’s 12-point margin over Michael Screnock in Wisconsin’s recent Supreme Court race has reignited talk that November will see a Democratic landslide. The evidence from that race, while good news for Democrats, is more nuanced.

Despite its officially nonpartisan status, Wisconsin Supreme Court races are known to follow partisan leanings. Thus, the more liberal candidate’s massive win, in a state that Trump won, and which incumbent Republican governor Scott Walker has carried three times, adds more fuel to the fire for those arguing that the Democrats will sweep the fall midterms. But there’s reason to wonder how much this one election supports those claims.

Turnout is the biggest reason for doubt. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert pointed out, just under 1 million people voted in the April 3 contest. Fall gubernatorial contests normally draw more than twice that number. Moreover, turnout in this race was much higher in liberal and Democratic counties than in Republican ones. This suggests that much of the margin was artificially high, driven by the massive Democratic enthusiasm we have seen in special elections across the country since Trump’s inauguration. That enthusiasm may be counteracted by GOP enthusiasm at a regularly scheduled statewide race.

That’s exactly what happened in last fall’s regular elections in Virginia and New Jersey. Democrats did well in both states, but the turnout gap between Republicans and Democrats was much lower than in the specials. That fact meant that Democratic gains over Hillary Clinton’s margins in identical areas tended to be small, not the large shifts exhibited in the Wisconsin race and many specials. These data point to a much smaller Democratic tide, one more consistent with a moderate midterm victory than with a 2010-style wipeout.

But that does not mean the GOP should ignore the Wisconsin results. An ominous fact emerges once one looks at county-level returns. President Trump won by attracting millions of people who voted for President Obama. Gov. Walker won each of his three races by doing the same thing. The conservative Screnock, however, failed to do that in the Supreme Court race.

We can see this by looking at two regions of the state, the rural southwest and the Fox River Valley. Rural counties in the southwestern part of the state tend to vote Democratic. Trump carried 23 counties that Obama had won in 2012, many of them in this area. Scott Walker also carried 19 of these counties in his 2014 reelection. Screnock carried only eight, and those were the more Republican-leaning places that Obama had only narrowly carried. This implies that the blue-collar swing voter whose support decides Badger State elections has moved back to the Democrats.

The normally Republican Fox River Valley results support this notion. The Fox River Valley covers the middle northeast of the state between Lake Michigan and Oshkosh. Voters here are also blue-collar, although more Republican-leaning, and both Trump and Walker carried every county in their races by large margins. Dallet, however, won four of these counties in her race, and lost the others by much smaller margins than liberal Democrats normally do.

She even outperformed President Obama, who carried only one of these counties in 2012 while losing others that she carried by narrow margins. She also won six other counties with similar characteristics that Trump and Walker won and which other Republicans normally win. This again suggests that the blue-collar swing voter either has switched allegiance or just didn’t care enough to vote.

Incumbent presidents normally lose seats in midterm races. Lots can change between now and November. But right now, Wisconsin’s results are consistent with an expectation of sizable, but not catastrophic, losses for Trump’s GOP come fall.

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