1 of 8 | Ahead of November's looming mid-term elections, Democrats face several tightly-contested Senate races as they seek to fulfill a pledge by President Joe Biden to codify abortion rights on a national level.
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Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Democrats face several tightly contested Senate races in November's midterm elections as they seek to fulfill a pledge by President Joe Biden to codify abortion rights on a national level.
Biden reiterated the pledge Tuesday as he urged voters to help secure a majority in the Senate and hold on to the House to protect abortion rights after the Supreme Court ruled to overturn the abortion protections provided by the landmark ruling in Roe vs. Wade in June.
"Elect more Democratic senators to the United States and more Democrats to keep control of the House of Representatives," Biden said at the Democratic National Committee's "Restore Roe" event, warning voters that Republicans would cut access to reproductive health and could ban abortion nationwide.
The Senate is currently evenly divided with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the swing vote, however, Democrats are unable to form a supermajority on their own.
A total of 34 of the 100 Senate seats will be contested during the regular midterm election on Nov. 8, with the winners beginning their six-year terms on Jan. 3, 2023.
A pair of special elections are also being held. One in Oklahoma to fulfill the remaining four years left in Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe's term. Inhofe is resigning as of Jan. 3, 2023. The second is less consequential and will fill the final weeks of the term in the California seat vacated by Harris when she accepted the vice presidential nomination. The seat is also up for regular election this year for a total of 35 contests.
Biden has promised that if the midterm elections expand Democratic control in Congress, he will sign a bill to codify Roe vs. Wade on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in the case, which falls a few days after a new Congress is sworn in, on Jan. 22, 2023.
The pledge comes as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced legislation last month that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions.
Democrats, however, have sought to fight back against the Supreme Court's June ruling after it set off trigger laws in some states further restricting the procedure.
The House approved a pair of bills codifying Roe vs. Wade into law and protecting people traveling out of state to obtain an abortion in July after the high court's ruling and just weeks later, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would guarantee federal access to abortion, despite a lack of Republican votes to pass the bill.
Biden's speech Tuesday has placed increased importance on Senate races in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia in what could be an uphill battle to shift the balance of power in the chamber as the sitting president's party has lost congressional seats in all but two midterm elections since the end of World War II.
Republican Mehmet Oz is facing off with Democrat John Fetterman in Pennsylvania to replace retiring two-term Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in the battleground state often used to gauge the political temperature of the rest of the country.
Democrats have been critical of Oz for his moving stance on abortion. Oz, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon defended abortion rights during a 2019 interview. But the 62-year-old father of four has more recently described himself as "strongly pro-life." He does favor exceptions in cases of rape and incest and does not support criminal penalties for people seeking or doctors performing abortions.
Fetterman has attempted to hold Oz's feet to the fire over the issue.
"Dr. Oz believes all abortions are murder," Fetterman told the Pennsylvania Capital Star, in reference to the 2019 interview.
"I believe it's a decision that should only be between a woman and her doctor. That's all there is to it. Oz can't have it both ways."
The race in North Carolina to fill the vacancy created by retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr, one of a handful of Republicans to vote in favor of impeaching former President Donald Trump, is also grabbing attention.
Democrats are pouring millions of dollars into the campaign of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who has made the abortion issue a pillar of her election platform, while also reiterating that she will be an independent voice for the state.
"I will fight to make sure that Roe vs. Wade becomes the law of the land," Beasley, 56, said during a debate Friday night.
"I will support the parameters outlined in Roe vs. Wade, which provide for protections and restrictions on abortion later in pregnancy and allow them only in the most severe cases. For instance, when a woman's life is at risk."
Her opponent, Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C, has the backing of Trump and has expressed a clear anti-abortion message on his website.
"I believe that life begins at conception and that our country should not stand for the injustice of ending the lives of millions of unborn children every year through abortion. I will do everything I can to stand up for life," reads Budd's statement on the issue.
The 50-year-old father of three has also co-sponsored a bill that would put a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks.
In Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio faces off against Democratic Rep. Val Demings who seeks to flip the Senate seat.
Rubio, a two-term senator and Demings, a former Orlando police chief, sparred over abortion rights during a debate Tuesday night.
"We are not going back, senator, no matter how obsessed you are with a woman's body and her right to choose," Demings told Rubio.
"We are not going back to a time where women are treated like second-class citizens or like property."
She has also criticized Rubio for his previous statements that there should be no exceptions for abortions in cases of rape or incest.
Rubio was critical of Demings, calling her abortion position extreme, adding that she would support the procedure without restrictions. Demings said she would support abortion until viability but did not further detail her position.
Access to abortion is a major issue in the southern state. A Spectrum News/Siena College poll released on Oct. 3, revealed that 21% of all voters and 36% of Democratic voters said abortion is their most important issue.
"Economic issues are by far the dominant election issue for Republicans and independents, but the top issue for Democrats is threats to democracy followed closely by abortion and the economy," Siena College Research Institute director Don Levy said in a news release.
"While abortion doesn't make it into the top seven issues for men, it's the second most important issue for women. Black voters say racial justice is their top issue just ahead of the economy."
In Georgia, Republican candidate Herschel Walker is attempting to use his star power as an NFL legend to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Walker has drawn criticism for his anti-abortion stance, despite reports that he'd paid for the procedure for the mother of one of his children. The 59-year-old initially denied them before acknowledging he did send a $700 check to the woman.
He's also this week denied that he previously called for "no exceptions" to anti-abortion laws, even though he has been recorded on video doing so.
Warnock, who is the first black senator ever elected in Georgia, has steered clear of criticizing Walker's politics so far, instead pointing to his truthfulness. However, the 53-year-old has recently become more vocal in the race for the key senate seat. A Walker victory could have major implications in the Senate, after Warnock edged out former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., in 2020, to secure the 50-50 split.
"I guess he expects the people of Georgia now to hallucinate and imagine that he is also a United States senator," Warnock told reporters on Monday.
"He's clearly not ready."