Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday a major investment in midterm election campaigns, with $20 million set to influence races in at least eight states. The largest midterm push ever planned by the organization’s political advocacy arm will target open and contested governorships and U.S. Senate seats, in addition to some campaigns for state attorneys general, seats in state legislatures, and the U.S. House of Representatives.
A major portion of that initial $20 million, which Planned Parenthood expects to increase in coming months, will go toward races in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, with a special focus on the latter three states. In Nevada, where Hillary Clinton bested Donald Trump by more than two points in 2016, Planned Parenthood and other progressive groups hope to unseat Republican Sen. Dean Heller. They are also working to protect the Pennsylvania governor’s office from Republican challengers who have been funding their campaigns with millions of their own dollars. The money Planned Parenthood sends to Wisconsin will go towards backing Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and opposing Republican Scott Walker, the notoriously anti-union governor and one-time presidential hopeful.
The seat Sen. Jeff Flake is vacating in Arizona is another opportunity for Planned Parenthood, which will get behind centrist Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic candidate. The organization is also stepping into Democratic primaries where reproductive rights are at stake. In Illinois, Planned Parenthood and several prominent Democrats are supporting Marie Newman against Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski, an anti-abortion incumbent the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee still has not endorsed. (Though Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that she supports him.)
The grand strategy behind Planned Parenthood’s investment has two main prongs: Minimize GOP power in the Senate and get more Democrats into governors’ offices, where they’ll play an important role in the post-Census redistricting that will shape elections for the next decade. With more than 1.5 million new supporters since January 2017, and a surge of woman-led activism that followed Donald Trump’s election, Planned Parenthood’s leaders are hopeful that they can transform the atmosphere of political urgency into measurable victories. The name of the group’s midterm campaign—“March. Vote. Win.”—suggests that flashy public actions are only the first step of a successful protest. “We’ve already seen millions across the country rise up,” said Deirdre Schifeling, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, in a statement. “With the launch of March. Vote. Win., we’re taking this fight to the ballot box. We are going to ensure that our elected officials have our backs.”
Schifeling’s enthusiasm is backed by a 2016 poll that showed a majority of voters in each of five swing states—including three the organization is targeting this season (Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Ohio)—said they were less likely to vote for candidates who worked to “defund” Planned Parenthood. Heller made a major blunder on this front last year, when he promised to “protect Planned Parenthood” at a town hall, then walked the statement back the next day, saying he opposed the federal funding the organization gets by providing care for patients on Medicaid. Another poll found that, in Nevada, 58 percent of voters—including 75 percent of Latino voters and 42 percent of Republicans—oppose defunding Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood also points to a poll it conducted just before November’s Virginia gubernatorial election that suggested reproductive-rights messaging was an effective means of getting voters excited about the eventual winner, Ralph Northam. The survey told likely voters about Northam and opponent Ed Gillespie’s diverging views on women’s rights—Gillespie wanted to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood—and read them leading statements about the candidates: “Northam trusts women to make their own health care decisions” and “Ed Gillespie doesn’t trust Virginia women to make their own health care decisions.” For black voters, who ended up being essential to Northam’s victory, hearing the messaging made a 19-point difference in their margin of support for Northam. The statements also moved voters over 65 towards Northam by 8 points and voters who leaned Republican by 2 points.
Analysts have partially attributed the November 2017 victories of Northam and several other Democrats to a surge of new Trump-inspired candidates, activists, and anger in the electorate. If the Trump backlash holds its momentum through this fall, Planned Parenthood and the Democrats could capture several important seats. For its part, the Trump administration seems to be doing all it can to rile up women and people who care about their rights. Just two days ago, Mike Pence spoke at a luncheon for an anti-abortion organization, where he proclaimed that the U.S. would outlaw legal abortion “in our time.” Twenty million dollars can get Planned Parenthood a lot of campaign ads and phone banking, but this outrage factory of a vice president promises the kind of bloodthirsty voter-motivation money can’t buy.