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Rep. Davids is using Kansas' vote against anti-abortion measure to defend her seat

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The fall of Roe v. Wade has reshaped the political landscape. And that's especially true in Kansas, where an anti-abortion ballot measure lost in a landslide earlier this month. As Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, an embattled Democratic congresswoman running for reelection is taking the abortion fight to her Republican challenger.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: There's only one Democrat in the Kansas congressional delegation - Representative Sharice Davids. And with redistricting this year, her seat get a lot tougher to defend.

NANCY PENCE: And it'll show you a little map.

MORRIS: But Davids has lots of help from people like Nancy Pence here, training volunteers to campaign door-to-door in a post-Roe world.

PENCE: We're in uncharted ground now. And I think that astute politicians look at this and say, this is something I should pay attention to.

MORRIS: It'd be hard to miss the political upheaval in Kansas. Earlier this month, voters in this conservative state crushed a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have paved the way for a ban on abortion. It was a massive upset, touching off tearful celebrations among activists accustomed to losing elections.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Woo (ph).

MORRIS: The amendment failed 59 to 41% in the best-attended primary election in state history. A partial recount only confirmed the outcome.

SHARICE DAVIDS: When 50 years of precedent protecting our rights was overturned and removed, people got scared. They got anxious. Lives were upended, and people got angry.

MORRIS: Sharice Davids has hitched her campaign to that anger, staging press conferences and producing ads reminding voters that her opponent, former Kansas Republican Party Chairwoman Amanda Adkins, was on the losing side of the abortion amendment vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Our friends and neighbors rejected her extremist politics. Now we can stop Amanda Adkins from bringing her anti-choice agenda to Congress.

MORRIS: Adkins' campaign didn't respond to calls and emails requesting an interview for this story. Adkins has been hammering Davids on inflation and support for Joe Biden. Here's part of her new radio ad.

SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Radical Biden and Davids policies are devastating American families and businesses. Instead of fighting for us, Sharice Davids blindly votes with Joe Biden.

MORRIS: Adkins says that she believes that life begins at conception. But it's not something she's advertising. So this is a major reversal - a Kansas Democrat going after a Kansas Republican on the issue of abortion.

STEPHANIE SHARP: Always an issue for the right - always, always, always.

MORRIS: But Stephanie Sharp, a political consultant and former Republican Kansas lawmaker, says the abortion ballot issue uncovered a disconnect. It turns out the Kansas electorate has more nuanced views on abortion than most successful Republican lawmakers here do. And Trump says the massive primary turnout exposed a potential voting bloc for a candidate like Davids trying to activate middle-of-the-road voters.

SHARP: There's a segment of the population that never, ever votes in primaries. So you take the Democrats and unaffiliateds that voted in this primary. Then you take Republicans who voted in this primary but have never voted in a primary before. Those are your moderates. You know, that's your margin of victory, easily.

MORRIS: And this isn't just about Kansas. Polls show that most Americans say they disapprove of the Supreme Court decision overthrowing Roe. And other vulnerable Democratic congresswomen in Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia are leaning into the abortion rights issue this year. With surging inflation, mass shootings and climate disasters, it's not clear how much difference one issue might make. But candidates like Sharice Davids are hoping that a new emphasis on abortion rights will help get their voters to the polls come November. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "TIMID, INTIMIDATING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.