Trump and Biden's campaigns turn the focus to Arizona after it passes restrictive abortion law

By Ben Giles
Scott Simon/NPR
Published: Monday, April 15, 2024 - 1:58pm
Updated: Monday, April 15, 2024 - 3:30pm

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Side by side photos of Donald Trump and Joe Biden
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0, Charlie Leight/ASU News
Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Last week, the Arizona State Supreme Court ordered the enforcement of a law from 1864 banning nearly all abortions. That's led both presidential campaigns to focus on the battleground state.

SCOTT SIMON: Vice President Kamala Harris began this weekend in Tucson, Arizona, where there's been a huge shift in the political landscape after the state Supreme Court ordered the enforcement of a law that bans nearly all abortions. Political editor Ben Giles of member station KJZZ joins us. Ben, thanks for being with us.

BEN GILES: Thank you.

SIMON: The vice president was in Arizona, presumably to try and make some political capital on the ruling. Do you see the Biden-Harris campaign making her message even more resonant in the months ahead?

GILES: Well in Tucson yesterday, the Harris message was simple. They are tying the decision in Arizona to former President Donald Trump. In fact, she noted that as she was speaking across the country, in Florida, the former president was boasting about overturning Roe v. Wade.


KAMALA HARRIS: Donald Trump just said the collection of state bans is, quote, "working the way it is supposed to."


GILES: And in Florida Friday, Trump indeed did take credit for, in his words, "breaking Roe v. Wade."


DONALD TRUMP: We gave it back to the states, and the states are working very brilliantly - in some cases conservative, in some cases not conservative. But they're working. And it's working the way it's supposed to.

GILES: Democrats are happy to tie Trump to Roe v. Wade and by extension, then, this Arizona Supreme Court ruling. They think criticizing the ruling is a winning issue with Arizona voters who generally support abortion rights with some restrictions.

SIMON: What indications are there that this will still be an issue, though, in November?

GILES: Well, along with races for president, for U.S. Senate, for Congress, there's also going to be a ballot initiative up for a vote in November that Democrats say will correct the Supreme Court's error here. It will enshrine abortion rights in the Arizona Constitution.

SIMON: What about Republican candidates, including Donald Trump? How are they talking about abortion in the wake of this ruling?

GILES: Well, we've already seen Trump criticize the Supreme Court for going too far with its ruling in Arizona. That's a clear sign that Republicans fear this is a losing issue in November. We've also seen, down the ballot, candidates like U.S. Senate hopeful Kari Lake, who repeatedly praised the near-total ban when she was running for governor of Arizona two years ago. Now she's calling it a bad law and calling on state lawmakers to repeal it.

Further down the ballot, there are Republican congressmen and swing districts like David Schweikert and Juan Ciscomani who are now more vulnerable, or seen as more vulnerable, than they were at the start of the week. They, too, are saying the Supreme Court got it wrong.

SIMON: Bad law, got it wrong - how is that sentiment shared by Republican voters in Arizona?

GILES: I'm seeing a lot of disappointment among Arizona conservatives who've been fighting to make abortions illegal for years. There was an effort from Democrats at the state Capitol this week to repeal the 1864 ban. But Republican leaders blocked that effort because a lot of rank-and-file members in the state legislature think the court's ruling was a great victory. And I think we're going to start to see on the campaign trail, too - Thursday, Lake was in southern Arizona, and she faced questions from voters about why she's done a 180 and now opposes a near-total ban that she wants praised.

SIMON: KJZZ's Ben Giles in Phoenix. Ben, thanks so much for being with us.

GILES: Thanks for having me.


Politics Abortion