By Nandita Bose
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Abortion rights helped Democrats stave off a hefty defeat at midterm elections last year and the party aims to put the issue at the center of the 2024 fight for the White House.
As Republican candidates propose new measures to restrict abortions and Republican-led states roll out tighter controls, President Joe Biden's re-election campaign last week released a new ad titled "These Guys", part of a $25 million campaign focused on women in key battleground states.
The ad shows former President Donald Trump taking credit for ending Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that recognized a constitutional right to abortion, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing a six-week abortion ban in his state.
Reproductive health care decisions are personal, and "the last people who should be involved are these guys," the ad says.
It is part of a larger push by women's, reproductive rights and Democratic groups to put abortion rights at the heart of the 2024 campaign and attack anti-abortion measures on local ballots around the country.
Biden campaign officials, the Democratic National Committee and rights groups told Reuters that abortion rights stopped an expected "red wave" Republican takeover of the Senate in 2022, and they believe it will draw more Democrats and some independent and Republican voters to Biden in 2024.
Taking a page from Republican ad campaigns of the past, they are stressing Americans' desire to keep the government out of their personal lives.
Midterm exit polls showed that a bump in young voters, and especially women, helped Democrats, and women voters swinging from Trump helped deliver the White House to Biden in 2020.
Abortion bans appeal to Republicans' Christian evangelical base, and overturning Roe v. Wade has been a galvanizing issue for the right for decades.
But they are unpopular with the general public, and Democrats aim to leverage that.
No Dem Left Behind, a political action committee, started training activists this week to reach across the aisle on abortion rights.
"It's about freedom. We were founded as a country on that principle," said Hassan Martini, who founded the PAC in 2019. "Nearly 40% of rural Republicans identify as pro-choice. Who is talking to them? We are,” he said.
Most polls, including a Reuters/Ipsos poll in July, show a majority of U.S. voters oppose presidential candidates who favor strict abortion restrictions.
Even in conservative-leaning states such as Ohio, Kansas and Kentucky, voters have rejected Republican-backed measures that would have sharply curtailed existing abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.
Americans' support for abortion rights is nuanced, however. Reuters/Ipsos polls show over 40% support a ban after 15 weeks of gestation and oppose women obtaining abortion pills through the mail.
The Supreme Court ruling last year left it up to the states to set their own rules for abortions, leaving women facing a patchwork of different reproductive rights depending on where they live.
Republican presidential candidates discussed a grab bag of abortion law positions during their first debate on Aug. 23, including the merits of a ban after six weeks.
Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, the sole woman candidate, urged her party to stop demonizing women, pass a more moderate 15-week ban and consider the political realities.
"No Republican president can ban abortions any more than a Democrat president can ban all those state laws," Haley said, citing the lack of 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to pass such a law.
Haley's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Democratic strategists believe voters will punish Republicans for their pursuit of unpopular restrictions.
"You can't run a party talking about freedom and then base one of your major policies on taking one of the most fundamental freedoms away from half the population," said Jennifer Holdsworth, a Democratic strategist.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), told Fox News she was happy to see Republican candidates discussing abortion ahead of the 2024 election. The RNC did not respond to a request for comment.
"Democrats used that in 2022," she said. "If our candidates aren’t able to fend a response and put out a response, we’re not going to win."
(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Heather Timmons and Josie Kao)