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How the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision is shaping the 2024 election

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization has meant that access to abortion care is no longer guaranteed for millions of Americans. It was a political earthquake when it happened nearly a year ago. In many ways, the ground is still shaking. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith looks at what it may mean for the 2024 presidential race.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: For decades, the politics around abortion were pretty well set. Roe v. Wade meant abortion was legal nationwide. Republicans wanted Roe overturned, and that motivated their voters. Democrats, on the other hand, simply weren't as energized by it, and Democratic politicians often shied away from talking about abortion. Then came the Dobbs decision. Gretchen Whitmer is the Democratic governor of Michigan.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: The threat of women losing a right we've come to expect and rely on and - after 50 years of having it mobilized people. It enraged people. It coalesced people.

KEITH: Whitmer was running for reelection in 2022. She won her race easily. A referendum also on the Michigan ballot, establishing a state constitutional right to abortion and contraception won by even more.

WHITMER: But I can tell you in this very swing state, purple state of Michigan, it has been something that has really changed the whole landscape here, flipping both chambers of our legislature for the first time in 40 years and returning me to office and a host of other people who are fighting for these rights.

KEITH: Senator Gary Peters, also from Michigan, led nationwide efforts to get Democrats elected and reelected to the U.S. Senate in 2022. He says the Dobbs effect was clear.

GARY PETERS: The polls closed at 8 o'clock that night. If you were in line, you could still vote, and the last voter to vote at the University of Michigan was a little after 2 o'clock in the morning. They stood in line for hours. They were not going to let Republicans take away a fundamental right that their mothers had.

KEITH: Ultimately, Democrats did better than expected in the midterm elections. Their voters and independents showed up because abortion was on the ballot, quite literally in states like Michigan, but figuratively all over the country. Democratic candidates talked about abortion rights and painted Republicans as extreme. In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Republican Party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel says her party needs to do things differently in 2024.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RONNA MCDANIEL: And abortion was a big issue in key states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. And so the guidance we're going to give to our candidates is you have to address this head-on. The Democrats spent 360 million on this, and many of our candidates across the board refused to talk about it, thinking, oh, we can just talk about the economy and ignore this big issue. And they can't.

KEITH: A year out from the Dobbs decision, reproductive rights remain an active political issue. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says public support for abortion increased right after the decision and has been enduring. The Democratic incumbent in the race for mayor in Lincoln, Neb., who Lake consulted for, even made it a central issue in her campaign last month.

CELINDA LAKE: This issue became a core values issue. It's like, I'm not going to vote for someone who has these views. I don't care what office you're talking about, if you're talking about president to dogcatcher. I'm not going to vote for someone with these values.

KEITH: Nationwide, the Dobbs decision remains unpopular. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll out this week found 57% of those surveyed were opposed, led by Democrats, independents and women. But Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini says he's just not convinced that come November 2024, this will be the biggest driver of voter enthusiasm.

PATRICK RUFFINI: As this becomes more of a settled issue, you know, nearly universal access in blue states, and you're going to have a lot of restrictions in red states, as we settle back into, you know, what feels like a status quo, you know, it's going to be, I think, tougher to move people into message on the issue.

KEITH: Democrats are betting they can keep this issue front of mind. And it is certainly going to be a matter of debate in the competitive Republican presidential primary. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

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