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Doug Mastriano running mate Carrie Lewis DelRosso plays down abortion in race’s final days

  • Chris Potter/WESA
Carrie Lewis DelRosso, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, speak at a get-out-the-vote rally, Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Bethel Park, Pa. Pennsylvania's primary election is Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Droke)

 Rebecca Droke / AP Photo

Carrie Lewis DelRosso, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, speak at a get-out-the-vote rally, Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Bethel Park, Pa. Pennsylvania's primary election is Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Droke)

Republican gains in next week’s midterm elections may depend in part on whether they can play down the significance of abortion rights. And it’s not just pollsters and pundits who think so, judging from remarks recorded at a meet-and-greet event last weekend in Crawford County that featured GOP lieutenant governor candidate Carrie Lewis DelRosso.

According to tape shared with WESA of the “Cookies with Carrie” event, during a Q&A with voters, DelRosso was asked how she and her running mate, Doug Mastriano, could overcome Democrat Josh Shapiro’s fundraising advantages. DelRosso, who currently serves as a state representative outside Pittsburgh, said the campaign’s focus was on “the kitchen tabletop” issues of schools, crime and inflation.

But as for abortion, she urged supporters canvassing for the ticket, “Don’t go down that hole.” She said she had “many women calling my office screaming. They’re emotional voters.” But, she said, “I don’t think they’re gonna vote. … They yell and scream, and they forget to go to the polls.”

That perspective on the race angered Signe Espinoza, the executive director at Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. “It’s disheartening and disturbing to hear how she’s talking about voters — especially women. How sexist is it to talk about women that way?”

More broadly, Espinoza said, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June, which overturned the Constitutional right to an abortion, “Voters are really in tune with the fact that our rights are on the ballot this year.”

DelRosso did not respond to texts and phone calls seeking comment about the recording over several days. But Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a conservative values group, scoffed at the idea that the abortion issue could be hidden away, given the fact that Mastriano has been vocal proponent of restricting abortion.

“Do you honestly believe people don’t know where Doug Mastriano stands?” he asked.

Certainly Democrats have pounded Mastriano for his position on abortion, which includes sponsoring a bill that would effectively limit abortion after about 6 weeks — a point at which a pregnancy is often not even detectable. And at times, Mastriano has reaffirmed his support of legislation to sharply reduce access to the procedure. He’s also called the issue “the single most important [of] our lifetime”

But in the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision, Mastriano called the issue a “distraction” and went uncharacteristically quiet on the issue during this summer. He said his own view was “kind of irrelevant” because voters have to choose their elected officials — an assertion that ignores the fact that, as governor, he would be in a position to sign any limits proposed by the legislature.

In the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision, Geer said, there was “a massive change from the environment over the last 50 years. Americans everywhere had to take a while to figure that out.” And he allowed that among Republicans, too, “I think there was a bit of trying to get your sea legs about how things were shaping up.” But “I think what we see from Republican candidates is the desire to save as many babies as possible.”

Geer also said that media coverage of the issue too often gives a pass to Democrats.

Shapiro has said he backs leaving the status quo of Roe v. Wade in place (and indeed would be unlikely to advance abortion rights given the likelihood that Republicans continue to control the legislature next year). But Geer notes that “abortion is legal in Pennsylvania up to six months — that’s very late compared to European countries.” The vast majority of abortions in the United States happen before the 15th week of a pregnancy, and many European countries limit abortion to 12 weeks, though exceptions are provided for more cases, and easier access to the procedure means less need for later-term abortions.

“When people come to understand the issue, they understand what it is,” Geer said. Democrats “putting their eggs in the abortion basket hasn’t [resonated] with the American people.”

Espinoza, of Planned Parenthood, said the real test of that depends on “what’s going to happen next Tuesday, and who we can turn out. … We know that the governor has been the last line of defense when it comes to abortion rights. And we know folks are feeling a mix of emotions — outrage and wanting to channel their energy into going out to vote.”

Espinoza noted that even prior to the Dobbs decision, abortion rights were under siege in the state. “A lot of folks think of Pennsylvania as a safe haven. But there are 17 clinics in the state, and when Roe was decided we had 145.”

In terms of the politics, Muhlenberg College pollster Christopher Borick said that, “On the whole, the Dobbs decision has undoubtedly been a boost for Democrats. When you look at polling [and] voter registration, the situation has improved politically for them. And if I’m a Republican, I’d much rather talk about inflation and crime, issues where I’m in a better position.”

Borick said it was possible that concern about reproductive rights “has waned to some degree as a motivator” for voting. Still, he added, “It may not be as potent as inflation, but you shouldn’t confuse being potent with being impactful. And the issue could be especially impactful in the governor’s race.”

After all, he said, if Mastriano wins and the legislature remains in Republican hands, it could have a far greater and more immediate impact than the outcome of Pennsylvania’s Senate race — or any other contest on the ballot.

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