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Abortion takes center stage in RI congressional race — and both candidates favor access

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 10/3/2022 Ryan King

A rare red blip is threatening to breach one of the deep-blue Ocean State's congressional districts, and Democrats have found a battle cry to lean on in defense: abortion rights.

Over recent weeks, Democrat Seth Magaziner and his allies have cut ads pummeling fellow 2nd Congressional District hopeful Republican Allan Fung on abortion rights, sensing a weakness they hope can scare off independents warming up to Fung. There's just one catch: Fung has a history of backing abortion rights.

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"If I needed. If my daughter needed an abortion, Alan Fung would let states make that a crime and then lock me in jail ... and the doctor too," multiple women grimly warn in a Magaziner ad released Wednesday.

Fung previously billed himself as "pro-choice" and has stated that he "would protect the ability for a woman to make that decision" while also conditioning that he "is more of a states rights person."

He recently backed a bill in the Senate to prohibit state bans on abortion before fetal viability, which typically occurs around 24 weeks of gestation. Magaziner quickly pounced.

"Another day, another desperate attempt by Allan Fung to run from his record on abortion while Republicans in Congress continue to double down on their agenda. Will Fung disavow McCarthy’s 'Commitment to America'?" Magaziner tweeted.

Another ad backing Magaziner from the House Majority political action committee flagrantly branded Fung as "another anti-abortion Republican" and cited his commitment to the GOP's agenda as evidence.

The abortion line of attack has also been deployed in the governor's race against Republican Ashley Kalus, who has described herself as "pro-life." Although one of the most Catholic states in the country, Rhode Island has come a long way from the 1970s, when abortion was mostly banned in the state.

"It's a majority Catholic state, but it's solidly wed to the right to choose, with some restrictions on it," Wendy Schiller, a professor of political science at Brown University, told the Washington Examiner.

Throughout the midterm elections, many Republicans nationally have sought to return fire on Democrats for being too loose on abortion regulation. But Fung has seemingly sought to steer the focus to bread-and-butter topics, such as roaring inflation and prices at the gas pump.

"In difficult economic times when people are worried about inflation and taxes, I don’t expect the abortion issue to be decisive, since Rhode Island already has liberal state abortion laws," William Jacobson, a Cornell professor and conservative blogger from Rhode Island who helms Legal Insurrection, told the Washington Examiner.

“For the first time in decades, a Republican has a good chance to win a congressional seat in Rhode Island," Jacobson added. "Magaziner, by contrast, is living off of the name recognition of his father, who was a powerful Clinton-aligned Democrat. He doesn’t have any real base."

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Although historically a lock for Democrats, Rhode Island's 2nd Congressional District is widely seen as competitive this cycle. The retirement of Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) has left the seat vacant, and Fung brings with him ample name recognition at a time when a slew of economic woes have been gripping the nation and historical headwinds favor the GOP.

Fung is the former mayor of Cranston, the second-largest city in the state, which he served from 2009-2021. He also unsuccessfully vied for governor in 2014 and 2018 against Gina Raimondo, who is now the commerce secretary.

Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner sailed to victory in the Ocean State's Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District Tuesday, setting the stage for a hotly anticipated showdown with Republican Alan Fung in the fall. Photojoined from AP Photos and Fung Campaign © Provided by Washington Examiner Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner sailed to victory in the Ocean State's Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District Tuesday, setting the stage for a hotly anticipated showdown with Republican Alan Fung in the fall. Photojoined from AP Photos and Fung Campaign

Eyeing a once-in-a-quarter-century opportunity to break through the blue district, national Republicans have poured upward of $1 million to buoy Fung. Meanwhile, Fung has caught the attention of Democratic upper brass as the party ratchets up its offense against him.

"He's a considerable threat. Allen Fung is very well-known," Schiller said. "He's probably the best-known Republican in the state. And he is well-liked in the state of Rhode Island and the district. People think highly of him. They think he's a genuinely dedicated politician, he's sincere. ... In a small state, local connections really matter."

At least one poll has Fung besting Magaziner, who has shown no signs of underestimating his Republican foe. Magaziner, the state treasurer, has unleashed a slew of ads and attacks on Fung, seeking to caricature him as a puppet for former President Donald Trump and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), both of whom are deeply unpopular in Rhode Island.

This includes flashing a photo of Fung at Trump's inauguration in 2017.

"You can create a lingering sense of unease with voting for Allan Fung among independents and Democrats in the district," Schiller explained. "Repeated ads that emphasize that he could be the decisive seat that gives the Republicans a national majority in the Congress ... [could] push those voters back to Magaziner. Or make them so uncertain that they stay home."

Both the abortion and Trump lines of attack prey upon politically fragile terrain for Fung. The Republican base is largely zealous about safeguarding the life of the unborn child and ebullient about Trump. Fung risks alienating the base if he courts independents too aggressively on either topic.

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Still, Fung may have a secret weapon of his own against Magaziner: voter turnout. In this election cycle, both the governor's race and the Providence mayor's race appear to be dull compared to prior elections. Therefore, it could be difficult for Magaziner to electrify his base and drive a robust voter turnout, Schiller said.

During the Democratic governor's primary, Helena Foulkes enjoyed a surge in election day voters, but incumbent Gov. Dan McKee managed to claim victory with an entourage of early voters. Magaziner may not be so lucky if he's not careful, Schiller contended.

"Republicans are going to be out the door because this is their only opportunity to maybe win this seat," Schiller surmised. "If we believe ... a higher percentage Republicans vote on election day than they do early — that's something Magaziner has to worry about."

 

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Tags: Rhode Island, News, Abortion, Midterms 2022, Congress

Original Author: Ryan King

Original Location: Abortion takes center stage in RI congressional race — and both candidates favor access

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