Anti-Abortion Political Group to Target Vulnerable Democrats in ‘Toss-Up’ States

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Anti-Abortion Political Group to Target Vulnerable Democrats in ‘Toss-Up’ States

Sofia Resnick

According to the Associated Press, the Susan B. Anthony List's political action committee plans to spend around $10 million on this election.

The Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List will go after vulnerable Democratic senators in conservative Southern states during this mid-term election season, said the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, at a donors’ conference in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, the SBA List—a national nonprofit that tries to influence congressional elections with the stated mission of reducing and ultimately ending legal abortion in the United States—hosted its 2014 Campaign for Life Summit, a four-and-a-half-hour conference that included discussion among congressional leaders and anti-choice advocates on the best strategies for the GOP to gain electoral ground during this mid-term election year and to try to make abortion bans at 20 weeks national policy.

The SBA List’s strategy is crucial given the multiple governors races during this election cycle. And abortion continues to be a prominent issue at state and federal levels, evidenced by money flowing from so-called free-market organizations to groups such as the SBA List.

“We strategically need to pick places where we think we can do a good job, where it’s not a slam dunk, not a red state, not a deep-blue state, but where we think we can really do a good job,” Dannenfelser said. “And we use our perspective and our unique situation of being women leaders, to go into states and actually speak for women.”

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The Susan B. Anthony List Inc. Candidate Fund, the group’s political action committee (PAC), plans to spend around $10 million on this election, reports the Associated Press.

Dannenfelser named three states as SBA List targets: Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. In each of these states, Dannenfelser said, the group hopes to unseat incumbent Democratic senators who are seen as politically vulnerable, or as Dannenfelser referred to them, “toss-ups.” These are Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Kay Hagan (D-NC).

And the SBA List has amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars to throw at this effort. In her speech, Dannenfelser indicated the PAC would spend $781,000 on Arkansas, $742,000 on Louisiana, and $918,000 on North Carolina, for a total of about $2.4 million on these three states alone.

In terms of messaging, Dannenfelser and the SBA List PAC’s treasurer, Frank Cannon, said the group intends to focus on Democratic senators’ votes for the Affordable Care Act, which they are positioning as the “largest expansion of abortion since Roe.”

Additionally the group plans to focus on Senate Democrats’ stances on the federal “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act”—which would ban abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation—characterizing opposition to this legislation as extreme and against women and babies.

Similar laws—often known simply as 20-week bans—have been enacted in about a dozen states, but have been struck down as unconstitutional in Arizona and Idaho because they ban abortion before the point that a fetus is considered viable. Other states have been rushing to pass 20-week bans recently, including Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

At Wednesday’s summit, several speakers were elated by the recent passage of the 20-week ban in West Virginia, because this was the first Democratic-controlled legislature to approve this type of legislation.

The anti-choice fixation on 20-week bans has reached the federal level, as well. Last June, the House of Representatives passed a similar ban, but a version introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has stalled in the Senate.

Speaking at the conference, Graham said his goal is to get Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to become the first Democratic to sponsor of the Senate’s 20-week abortion ban to make it a bi-partisan bill. Graham also said he is pressuring Manchin to urge West Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to sign the state bill.

Politico reported earlier this week that Manchin says he supports West Virginia’s bill and is considering backing the federal Senate bill.

Neither Manchin’s nor Tomblin’s offices responded immediately to our requests for comment.

The SBA List also plans to try to influence the governor’s race in Texas, Dannenfelser said. The group plans to spend approximately $667,000 to defeat Democratic candidate Wendy Davis, who leapt to national prominence after opposing Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion bill, which includes a 20-week ban, during her much-watched filibuster in the Texas Senate last year.

Dannenfelser said the SBA List has hired a national campaign manager and plans to engage campaign managers in these states. The group’s goal is to reach at least 100,000 voters in each state, “which will win an election,” she said.

Cannon, who is also president of the conservative American Principles Project, said the list will take a cue from the Democrats’ playbook, focusing on turning out their voters in this off-year election; encouraging early voting; developing personal messages in TV and radio ads and phone calls that resonate with so-called values voters; and analyzing micro-targeting data, including commercial data.

Noting that the Democrats were very successful with their usage of micro-targeting data in the previous election, Cannon said the SBA List would be using data collected by political data company i360, which has been working with Themis, a voter database outfit established by David and Charles Koch’s political network. The data company produced mixed results in the GOP races for which it was hired in 2012.

“We are also trying to use the best tactics and strategies frankly that have been developed by our opponents, and we want to use them to move the right issues rather than issues that hurt our nation,” Cannon said.