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Analysis: Whaley taps into anger over loss of abortion rights in latest ads. Will it work?

In her 15-second spot titled "Our Bodies," Whaley says, "We're not asking our leaders for a lot here. We simply believe women deserve the freedom to decide what's right for our bodies, our families and our future."
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In her 15-second spot titled "Our Bodies," Whaley says, "We're not asking our leaders for a lot here. We simply believe women deserve the freedom to decide what's right for our bodies, our families and our future."

Former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley, the Democratic candidate for Ohio governor, would rather not have to be talking about abortion rights as a wedge issue in her campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Mike DeWine.

"It's a shame that we have to talk about this, but this is the first time in my lifetime that reproductive rights have been taken away from women," Whaley, a longtime supporter of abortion rights, told WVXU. "But I think we are seeing that this issue has galvanized this race."

"People are pissed off by this," Whaley said of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that did away with Roe v. Wade. "This is why we are seeing this incredible surge of women registering to vote in Ohio. They are eager to go to the polls."

The abortion issue is not some kind of magic bullet that will, all by itself, make up a double-digit gap in the polls for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate and cause her to surge to victory.

But having voters, women and men, fired up and ready to vote for a candidate who supports reproductive rights and against one in Republican incumbent DeWine, who does not, is the best hammer Whaley has in her toolbox.

And, when you are as far behind as Whaley appears to be, you use whatever you have.

Some see it as a gamble, a Hail Mary pass downfield, with the clock about to turn to zeroes. A gamble that outrage over the Roe v. Wade decision and DeWine's opposition to abortion will outpace the issues that Republicans said the midterm election should be about — the economy and inflation.

"I don’t see it as a Hail Mary pass at all," Whaley said. "DeWine knows he is in trouble over this. It's why he doesn't want to talk about his extremist views on abortion."

Clearly, the Roe v. Wade decision has fired up many women in Ohio. It is the only thing that could count for a 6.4% increase in women registering to vote since June. That's the second highest of any state in the nation, trailing only Kansas — where women voters went to the polls in droves in an Aug. 2 special election.

Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an abortion rights supporter who was a Republican and is now a Democrat, reacts as a referendum to strip abortion rights out of the state constitution fails.
Danielle Kurtzleben
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NPR
Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an abortion rights supporter who was a Republican and is now a Democrat, reacts as a referendum to strip abortion rights out of the state constitution fails.

Those women in Kansas killed a proposed constitutional amendment banning abortion concocted by Republicans in the state legislature, who thought they could slip it through in an early August election where no one would show up.

There's little doubt that if Ohio abortion rights activists mount a petition campaign to put a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights on the ballot in 2023 or 2024 that it would pass. Even many Republicans will tell you that privately.

For the time being — for the seven weeks remaining in this campaign — Whaley's campaign will be hammering away at reproductive rights. Whaley's campaign has a lot less money to work with than DeWine has; and the governor wants to keep the focus on the economy (just dandy here in Ohio, according to DeWine) and inflation (all Biden's fault, according to the GOP).

One of Whaley's TV ads on abortion is only 15 seconds long, but it is very powerful.

It features a woman named Sara from Knox County, obviously pregnant and at home with her two young children.

"Terminating my pregnancy was devastating," Sarah says. "But without that abortion my children wouldn’t have a mother and this baby wouldn't be on the way right now. "Mike DeWine has banned abortion in Ohio. I would have died without one."

Hits you right between the eyes.

There is one unmistakable sign that abortion is the last thing DeWine wants to talk about in this campaign, despite having been a fervent right-to-lifer throughout his long political career. During the primary election season, when DeWine was being challenged from the right by Jim Renacci and Joe Blystone, the DeWine-Husted campaign website was full of information about his crusade against abortion and why he opposes it.

Almost immediately after winning the May primary, DeWine's campaign almost immediately scrubbed the campaign website of any mention of abortion. Go ahead, check it out at www.mikedewine.com. You won't find the word "abortion" anywhere.

It's also one of the reasons — one of the many reasons — why DeWine hasn't accepted any invitations to debate Whaley and likely won't.

Polling would suggest that Whaley, not DeWine, is closer to the mainstream of Ohio voters.

In June, a Suffolk University poll done for the USA Today Network Ohio found that 53% of likely Ohio voters in the midterm election want to protect abortion rights, while 39% want the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly to pass legislation restricting it.

A Suffolk poll released last week showed 68% of Ohio oppose the current law in Ohio — the so-called "heartbeat bill" which bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That law is being challenged in court; and last week, a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge issued a 14-day temporary stay on the law.

The same poll showed that 84% of Ohioans support exceptions to abortion bans for victims of rape or incest, while 62% said abortion should not be banned for girls under the age of consent, which is 16 in Ohio.

But the great unknown is what the Ohio legislature will do. Will they pass a bill after the November election — a bill banning all abortions, without exceptions? There is every reason to believe that DeWine would sign such a bill.

But don't expect to hear the answer to that question in a DeWine-Whaley debate.

DeWine would rather you go to the polls thinking about all the lovely computer chips that happy Ohio workers will soon be churning out.

And not thinking about Sara of Knox County.
Copyright 2022 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.