For the last ten months or so, there's been little reason for Democrats to feel optimistic about the midterm election. Inflation has proven to be anything but "transitory"; President Biden's job approval ratings are not only low (the most recent FiveThirtyEight average puts them at 39.6 percent), but the lowest of any president at this point in his presidency in modern history; and the public is deeply pessimistic about the state of the economy and direction of the country. 

There's also been a clear enthusiasm gap, with Republican voters showing more interest in this election than Democrats. Thus far, primary turnout among Republican voters is up significantly from their participation in 2018, while it's declined slightly among Democrats.

But, for the last few weeks, the media focus has been on issues that put Republicans on the defensive. From the January 6th hearings to gun regulation and safety and most notably to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Democrats are finally on terrain where they are more comfortable and trusted than the GOP. 

The question is whether these issues, most specifically the Roe v. Wade decision, can help turn around Democrats' fortunes or at least help mitigate their losses this fall.

A number of polls taken this week have shown a significant swing toward Democrats. Since the June 24th Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, the tracker shows that five public polls have been released that measure the generic ballot (i.e, "would you vote for a Democrat or Republican this fall."). Of those five, four showed Democrats ahead on the generic by anywhere from 3 to 7 points. The other poll found Republicans up by 5 points. 

However, I'd be careful not to read too much into these initial findings. It's not that these surveys are necessarily wrong. It's that they are measuring the initial reactions of voters. As we go forward, the durability of this reaction is the more important. If Democrats' interest and enthusiasm in the election has indeed been fundamentally impacted, we should see a generic advantage for Democrats hold over the course of several polls taken over several weeks. More importantly, we would see it hold once pollsters move to a tighter "Likely Voter" screen. 

However, given our polarized electorate, the generic ballot test is not always the best gauge for whether the issue of abortion will have a meaningful impact on the election. 

Instead, watch for where Democrats decide to 'lean in' on the issue (and where they don't). If you want to know where Democrats think Roe v. Wade ruling could help, look at the states and districts where Democrats and/or Democratic-aligned outside groups are already advertising on the issue. Seven of the twelve states and districts where we've seen ads explicitly mention the overturning of Roe v. Wade (via the ad tracking firm AdImpact), are blue states: Connecticut GOV and SEN, Illinois GOV, Washington SEN, Rhode Island GOV, Maryland GOV, MI-11 (Stevens/Levin) and Vermont SEN. The other four states where we've seen these ads are in three swing states and two swing congressional districts: Nevada SEN, New Hampshire SEN, Pennsylvania SEN and GOV, NV-03 (Rep. Susie Lee) and WA-08 (Rep. Kim Schrier). 

In other words, this issue will play much differently in certain states and districts than in others. Or, as one Democratic strategist put it to me the other day, this is an issue that has "has power in pockets" of the country. 

The overturning of Roe v. Wade has raised the stakes of this election for Democratic-leaning voters like no other issue has yet to do this cycle. For the first time in 50 years, the debate about abortion access is not ‘theoretical.’ It is also not a “one-off issue.” The impact of this decision will be felt for months to come as clinics are closed, lawsuits are filed, and new state laws are passed. Tagging a GOP-opponent as an “extremist” on abortion, is likely to be a more effective cudgel for Democrats than trying to attach them to Donald Trump. 

"A Todd Akin-type foil certainly makes for a much better villain for Democrats than Donald Trump in the suburbs," one GOP strategist told me. "If Democrats can turn every Republican on the ballot in November into Akin, they may even the playing field a bit by energizing their complacent base.”

Even so, Republicans are benefiting from a significant tailwind this cycle, driven almost entirely by concerns over inflation and rising prices. The overturning of Roe v Wade hasn’t shifted the wind in a different direction, but it is likely to reduce the intensity of that tailwind by a few knots. That means Republican candidates who need hurricane-force strength behind them to win (i.e., knocking off an incumbent in decidedly blue territory) are likely to come up short. But, for those who need just a healthy wind at their backs, they’ll likely have enough of it come this fall. 

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