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Walker is right that governors who oppose abortion, some of whom have signed into law bills that greatly restrict or ban the procedure, did well in November’s midterm elections.
Many of them bested their opponents by several percentage points, such as Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming.
But Walker’s claim leaves out context: Incumbents usually have an easier time winning, which held true this election cycle except in Nevada.
And governors who support abortion rights also easily won bluer states and kept hold of purple states such as Wisconsin.
A politician Wisconsinites will remember well was doing some reflecting as the new year dawned about the results of the Nov. 8, 2022, midterm elections.
That’s former Gov. Scott Walker, who led the state from 2011 to early 2019 and now serves as president of Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization.
In a Jan. 5 opinion piece in The Washington Times, Walker mused about governors who have opposed abortion winning second terms in Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Texas, New Hampshire and a smattering of other states, many of which have strict laws on the books limiting the procedure.
He argued that voters wanted leadership on the issue and that governors who delivered such leadership "have shown you can be pro-life and win."
Walker had made the same point a few days earlier on Twitter, writing Jan. 1, "Every pro-life Governor up for election in November won — by a large margin."
Is he right?
Let’s check it out.
Let’s start with the nitty-gritty part of this claim. Which governors oppose abortion, and how big were their winning margins?
A spokesperson for Walker pointed to a tweet thread from the former governor that gives us a starting point. We’ve cross-checked the vote totals using Politico’s gubernatorial election results page, tracking only incumbents which pertain to his claim.
Many have signed bills that limited or banned access to abortion in their respective states and have stated their opposition to the procedure. In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has said he’s "generally pro-choice" but signed a bill restricting abortion access later in pregnancy. He won with 57% of the vote.
Here’s a look at the governors in question, and their vote percentage. All are Republicans:
Wyoming, Mark Gordon, nearly 79%
Tennessee, Bill Lee, about 65%
Alabama, Kay Ivey, 64.7%
Ohio, Mike DeWine, nearly 63%
South Dakota, Kristi Noem, 62%
Idaho, Brad Little, 60.5%
Florida, Ron DeSantis, 59.4%
Iowa, Kim Reynolds, about 58%
South Carolina, Henry McMaster, about 58%
Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, 55.5%
Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, nearly 55%
Georgia, Brian Kemp, 53.4%
Alaska, Mike Dunleavy, 50.3%
How one defines a "large" margin, of course, can differ from person to person. Many above won handily, with several percentage points between them and their Democratic opponent, while it was a much closer call for Dunleavy in Alaska.
So, Walker is generally on point that governors who have opposed abortion did well in November’s elections.
But he leaves out a bit of critical context: Candidates who oppose abortion lost, too, meaning governors who support abortion rights did well, including in swing states.
We’ll start here in the Badger State, where Democratic Gov. Tony Evers beat his Republican opponent Tim Michels to secure a second term.
Michels took a hardline stance on abortion, saying repeatedly that he agreed with the 1849 Wisconsin law banning the procedure in most cases. In Evers’ first term, the governor blocked several pieces of legislation aiming to curtail abortion access, filed a lawsuit to overturn the state’s abortion ban and made reproductive freedoms a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.
A similar story was true in Kansas, where Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly held on over her Republican challenger, who backed a failed measure to restrict abortion in the state.
In bluer states such as California, Minnesota and Colorado, governors who support abortion rights were seeing the same sort of wide-margin wins as the anti-abortion governors Walker cited. Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, a Republican who last year signed legislation protecting abortion access in the state, won more than 70% of the vote.
"Abortion politics has long suggested that the side angrier about the current state of reproductive policy puts a higher priority on the abortion issue in determining for whom to vote," said Larry Sabato, a national political expert at the University of Virginia.
For decades after the Roe v. Wade decision, it was the anti-abortion side that was angrier, Sabato said. But in an election cycle following Roe v. Wade’s overturn, "the pro-choice side benefited — especially in competitive contests."
All of that speaks to the political makeup of states — perhaps more so than the stand on any particular issue — as well as the power of incumbency.
In short, it’s rare for incumbent governors to lose re-election.
Across the country, only one incumbent lost his chance for a second term — Steve Sisolak of Nevada, a Democrat.
To these ends, Sabato said, Walker’s statement is "a selection fact that doesn’t accurately represent the overall results of the 2022 elections."
Walker said, "Every pro-life governor up for election in November won — by a large margin."
Although a "large" margin is difficult to objectively quantify, Walker’s point is largely accurate.
It leaves out context about why they might have performed so well, such as incumbency and the state’s political makeup – something that benefited governors who support abortion rights, too.
A rating of Mostly True means the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
That fits here.
Washington Times, "Pro-life governors won in 2022," Jan. 5, 2023
Politico, "2022 ELECTION RESULTS: Democrats are having a strong election in the states," last updated Jan. 12, 2023
New Hampshire Public Radio, "Where they stand: How abortion policy is playing in the race for N.H. governor," Oct. 13, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Where Tony Evers and Tim Michels stand on abortion, crime, marijuana and education," Oct. 11, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tony Evers vetoes five bills aimed at reducing abortions in Wisconsin," Dec. 3, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Gov. Tony Evers says he won't approve any changes to abortion law, citing legal effort to overturn ban," Dec. 23, 2022
The Associated Press, "Wisconsin’s Evers looks for boost from anger over abortion," June 25, 2022
The Associated Press, "Abortion rights support helps Kansas Gov. Kelly win second term," Nov. 9, 2022
The Associated Press, "Vermont governor signs amendment protecting abortion rights," Dec. 13, 2022
Email exchange with Larry Sabato, founder and director, University of Virginia Center for Politics
National Public Radio, "Las Vegas-area GOP Sheriff Joe Lombardo beats Nevada's incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak," Nov. 11, 2022
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