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Kansas Abortion Vote Tests Political Energy in Post-Roe America

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OLATHE, Kan. — In the ultimate days before Kansans resolve whether to remove abortion rights protections from their State Structure, the politically competitive Kansas City suburbs have turn into hotbeds of activism.

In neighborhoods where yard signs often tout highschool sports teams, dueling abortion-related messages now also dot front lawns. A restaurant known for its chocolates and cheese pie has turn into a haven for abortion rights advocates and a source of ire for opponents. Signs have been stolen, a Catholic church was vandalized earlier this month and tension is palpable on the cusp of the primary major vote on the abortion issue since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June.

“I’m really sad that that happened,” said Leslie Schmitz, 54, of Olathe, speaking of the abortion access landscape. “And mad. Sad and mad.”

There could also be no greater motivator in modern American politics than anger. And for months, Republican voters enraged by the Biden administration have been explosively energized about this yr’s elections. Democrats, meanwhile, have confronted erosion with their base and significant challenges with independent voters.

But interviews with greater than 40 voters in populous Johnson County, Kan., this week show that after the autumn of Roe, Republicans not have a monopoly on fury — especially in states where abortion rights are clearly on the ballot and particularly within the battleground suburbs.

“I feel pretty strongly about this,” said Chris Price, 46, a political independent who said he voted for Mitt Romney for president in 2012 before backing Democrats when Donald J. Trump was on the ballot. “The candidates that will support an abortion ban, I’d not be supporting in any respect. Period.”

Asked if threats to abortion rights had affected how motivated she felt about engaging within the midterm elections this fall, Natalie Roberts-Wilner, a Democrat from Merriam, Kan., added, “Yes. Yes. Yes. Definitely.”

On Tuesday, Kansans will vote on a constitutional amendment that, if it passes, could give the Republican-dominated Legislature the flexibility to push latest abortion restrictions or to outlaw the procedure entirely. Nearby states including Missouri — which is separated from some competitive Kansas suburbs by State Line Road, a thoroughfare dotted with abortion-related yard signs — have already enacted near-total bans.

The vote is open to unaffiliated Kansans in addition to partisans. And regardless of the final result, activists on each side caution against drawing sweeping national conclusions from an August ballot query, given complex crosscurrents at play.

The amendment language itself has been criticized as confusing, and in an overwhelmingly Republican state, Democrats and unaffiliated voters are less accustomed to voting on Primary Day. Alternatively, just a few voters said they might vote no on the amendment but could back Republicans in November — an indication that some who support abortion rights still weigh other political issues more heavily in elections. And nationally, a Washington Post-Schar School poll released on Friday found that Republicans and abortion opponents were more prone to vote in November.

But there isn’t any query that the abortion debate within the state’s most populous county — situated in the Third District of Kansas, one in every of the nation’s best congressional seats — offers the primary significant national test of how the difficulty is resonating in suburban swing territory.

Like other highly educated, moderate areas — from suburban Philadelphia to Orange County, Calif. — the Third District is home to a considerable variety of center-right voters who, like Mr. Price, were comfortable with Mr. Romney in 2012. But they embraced Democrats within the 2018 midterms, including Gov. Laura Kelly and Representative Sharice Davids, and plenty of have recoiled from Mr. Trump.

Whether those voters remain within the Democratic fold this yr, with Mr. Trump out of office, has been an open query in American politics. Democrats are betting that outrage over far-reaching abortion restrictions will help the party hang onto a minimum of a few of those moderates, despite the extraordinary political headwinds they face.

Republicans insist that anger around inflation — and fear of a recession — will crowd out other concerns for a broad swath of voters. (In polls, much more Americans cite inflation or the economy as the most important problem facing the country than they do abortion.)

The Tuesday vote will offer an early snapshot of attitudes and energy around abortion, if not a definitive predictor of how those voters will behave in the autumn.

“How much of a motivator is it really?” said Dan Sena, a Democratic strategist who guided the House takeover in 2018, of abortion rights, adding that there had recently been signs of improvement for Democrats in some suburban districts. “How does it actually, when it’s by itself, move women, move portions of the electorate? And this may really give us insight and the chance to get a solution to that.”

Limited public polling has shown a fairly close if unpredictable race.

“It seems that the ‘Yes’ vote still has the lead, but that has narrowed,” said Mike Kuckelman, the chairman of the Kansas Republican Party. Citing the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that handed control over abortion rights to the states, he continued, “A whole lot of that’s because, I feel, the Dobbs decision has incited the pro-choice forces to come back out.”

The Kansas City Star reported on Thursday that there had been a rise, up to now, of about 246 percent in early in-person votes compared with in the course of the 2018 midterm primary elections. Several voting stations in each moderate and more conservative parts of Johnson County this week were bustling all day, including in a rainstorm and within the baking heat. And on Friday, Scott Schwab, the Republican secretary of state, predicted that around 36 percent of Kansas voters would take part in the 2022 primary election, barely up from the first in 2020.

His office said that the constitutional amendment “has increased voter interest within the election.”

“I’ve talked to many those that said, ‘I’ve not previously been involved but going to vote,’” Mr. Kuckelman said.

Other Republicans said that the abortion amendment and overturning of Roe didn’t affect their commitment to voting in other races this yr — that they’ve long been highly engaged.

“No more energized,” said John Morrill, 58, of Overland Park, who supports the amendment. “I used to be already very energized.”

On the Olathe site, which drew more conservative voters on Thursday, Melissa Moore said she was voting for the amendment due to her deeply held beliefs opposing abortion.

“I understand women saying, ‘I would like to regulate my very own body,’ but once you’ve gotten one other body in there, that’s their body,” Ms. Moore said. But asked how the extreme national concentrate on abortion affected how she considered voting, she replied, “I are likely to all the time be energized.”

A couple of others on the early-voting site in Olathe indicated that they were voting against the amendment and were inclined to back Democrats this fall. But they spoke in hushed tones and declined to present full names, citing concerns about skilled backlash, in an illustration of how fraught the environment has turn into.

Closer to the Missouri border, patrons at André’s, an upscale Swiss cafe, felt freer to openly express their opposition to the amendment. The restaurant and shop stoked controversy earlier this summer when employees wore “Vote No” stickers or buttons and encouraged patrons to vote, but several lunchtime visitors made clear that they shared those views.

“We just need to ensure that people have rights to make selections,” said Silvana Botero, 45, who said that she and a bunch of about 20 friends were all voting no and that she felt more captivated with voting in November, too.

At a voting site nearby, Shelly Schneider, a 66-year-old Republican, was more politically conflicted. Ms. Schneider opposed the amendment but planned to back some Republicans in November. Still, she was open to Ms. Kelly, the Democratic governor, especially if the amendment succeeded. Approval of the amendment, she acknowledged, could open the best way for potentially far-reaching motion from the Legislature.

“I feel Laura Kelly is type of a hedge against anything that may pass,” she said. “She might provide some common sense there.”

Mitch Smith contributed reporting.

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