Every day, Summer Bailey saw the congressional campaign signs planted in the luscious greenery near the entrance to Balboa Island in the heart of Newport Beach.
One belonged to Max Ukropina, a Republican businessman. The other was a sign for former Republican Congressman Scott Baugh. The two candidates are vying for Rep. Katie Porter’s congressional seat, hoping to swing the Democratic-leaning district toward Republicans as Porter runs for U.S. Senate.
Last month, Bailey decided to add a third panel to the mix, one focused on abortion.
The small white poster read: “Both are anti-choice” in blue letters, with red arrows pointing to Ukropina and Baugh’s signs. When hers was removed, she installed another one.
Bailey, 60, a nonpartisan voter, calls the issue of women’s bodily autonomy her “battle cry.”
“I know a lot of pro-choice Republicans, men and women, who might not choose to vote for a candidate on this basis,” she said. “But I want every Republican to know that this year, if you vote for your party, you are voting against women and you are voting against the bodily autonomy of the majority of Americans.”
Still, Bailey worries that abortion will get lost among the multitude of other issues voters are grappling with this election, even as Democrats nationally continue to advance the issue ahead of the March 5 primary.
Since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 2022, abortion policy and the push for a federal ban on the procedure in the Republican-controlled House have been at the forefront Democratic campaigns. But it’s unclear how well that issue mobilizes voters in Orange County’s four districts, which are expected to be among the most competitive in the country in this election.
The majority of Orange County voters, like California as a whole, support access to abortion. In 2022, approximately 57.2% of county voters supported Proposition 1, which enshrines the right to abortion in the California Constitution.
This show of support came even as the majority of OC voters cast ballots in favor of Republicans running for statewide office, including for Sen. Brian Dahle for governor against President outgoing Gavin Newsom.
In the 47th and 49th Congressional districts, support for abortion was even higher, reaching 61 percent. These districts extend largely along the Orange County coast, with the 49th district extending into San Diego.
Support for the measure in the 40th and 45th districts was slightly lower than the county as a whole, at about 55%, according to voter data. The 40th Congressional District includes the canyon communities of Orange County and extends into Riverside and San Bernardino counties, while the 45th District includes Little Saigon and extends into part of Los Angeles County.
Beth Miller, a Republican Party strategist, is skeptical that the focus on abortion will lead to increased voter turnout, especially in swing districts like those in Orange County.
“Democrats want to keep this an issue and this could be a good strategy in other parts of the country,” Miller said. “I just don’t think this issue will have the kind of impact that it once might have had given the protections in place in California.”
But Democrats are confident voters will rally around the issue, even if it doesn’t appear on the ballot in California.
Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized reproductive rights during a visit to San Jose last month, warning that Republicans could enact a federal ban on abortion if they took control of Congress. She asked Californians to remain “vigilant” and called reproductive freedom “one of the most important issues in this election.”
In the 47th District, where Bailey lives, the two leading Democratic candidates — Joanna Weiss and Dave Min — emphasized their pro-abortion rights positions in their campaign ads.
Ukropina said he favors leaving abortion policy up to the states. Baugh told The Times in an interview that he was “pro-life” with the exception of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother. He added that he would not advocate or vote for a federal ban on abortion.
In late January, EMILYs List, a liberal group that supports pro-abortion rights candidates, announced that its super PAC, Women Vote, had funded a $1 million ad buy to support Weiss.
In the ad, a narrator warns that Republicans in Washington, D.C., are pushing forward a nationwide ban.
“That’s why we need Democrat Joanna Weiss in Congress – the only one we can trust to take them on,” the ad continues. “In Congress, she will always protect our reproductive rights and freedoms.”
The purchase marked the largest independent expenditure for the California House races so far this cycle.
A spokesperson for EMILY’s List emphasized in a statement to the Times the importance of keeping the district blue if Democrats want to take control of the House and influence abortion policy at the federal level.
“Extremist anti-choice politicians won’t stop until they deny every woman in this country her right to make her own health care decisions,” said Danni Wang.
Meredith Conroy, a political science professor at Cal State University in San Bernardino, believes abortion will be a mobilizing force, particularly among younger, more liberal voters.
“I think younger voters are the least enthusiastic about a Trump/Biden rematch, but an issue like abortion might be enough to keep them engaged,” she said.
The debate around abortion has also intensified in Orange County’s 45th District, where Republican Rep. Michelle Steel faces four Democratic opponents, all of whom have emphasized their commitment to reproductive rights.
Candidate Kim Nguyen-Penaloza, a Democratic councilwoman and Garden Grove city councilwoman, criticized Steel for “flip-flopping” on her stance on abortion.
Steel’s camp fought back, saying Steel had not changed his position, which allows abortion only in cases of rape, incest or the mother’s health.
In 2021, a year before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Steel co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, a bill that sought to recognize a fertilized egg as a person entitled to equal protections under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Last January, House Republicans introduced identical legislation, which Steel signed on to about a year later. Days after pledging her support, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent an email criticizing her for “choosing to support extreme MAGA efforts to ban abortion nationwide, no matter how much these incessant attacks are unpopular or dangerous.”
Steel campaign spokesman Lance Trover dismissed the attack, saying: “Washington Democrats have spent four years lying about Michelle’s record, mocking her accent and launching sexist attacks . »
He added that Southern California voters trust Steel on critical issues in his district, including lowering the cost of living and fighting the Chinese Communist Party.
Miller said that while some moderate OC Republicans and swing voters might support abortion rights, the procedure may not be their main issue when it comes to selecting someone to send to Congress.
Ultimately, voters this cycle will have a lot to think about given the state of the economy and inflation, concerns about crime and education, she said.
“The question is, are they willing to side with the candidate who talks to them about these issues but might have a different opinion on abortion?
California Daily Newspapers