A Senate candidate’s new ad is latest example of Republicans attempting to deflect abortion attacks

Republican Tiffany Smiley speaks on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, at a Republican Party event on Election Day in Issaquah, Washington

CNN  — 

The Republican nominee for US Senate in Washington both touted her “pro-life” anti-abortion view and asserted her opposition to a federal abortion ban in a new ad on Thursday, as Republican congressional candidates in tough races across the country attempt to defuse an issue that could cost them.

The new direct-to-camera ad from Tiffany Smiley counters warnings from Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray’s campaign head-on after Murray’s camp had warned that Smiley would support Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and ban abortion nationwide if elected.

“Patty Murray has spent millions to paint me as an extremist,” said Smiley. “I’m pro-life, but I oppose a federal abortion ban.”

“Patty Murray wants to scare you,” added Smiley at the end of the ad. “I want to serve you.”

After the Supreme Court decided in June that there was no longer a constitutional right to an abortion, overturning a nearly 50-year precedent, Republican candidates have struggled to figure out how to retain conservative voters while appealing to the country’s sizable majority that supports abortion rights. A pro-abortion rights Democrat won a special election Tuesday for a swing House seat in New York, surprising some political observers who thought that President Joe Biden’s unpopularity would sink the down-ballot candidate.

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Some Republican candidates have tried to avoid the issue, focusing instead on appealing to Americans upset with rising consumer costs and crime. But Smiley and some other Republican candidates have taken a different tack by also trying to diminish a potentially powerful motivating issue for Democrats.

In Colorado, a Senate Republican candidate Joe O’Dea recently said that abortions should be legal through 20 weeks of pregnancy, and allowed afterward only in certain cases: rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.

In Nevada, Senate Republican candidate Adam Laxalt wrote an op-ed this month stating he would not support a national abortion ban but would support limiting abortion to the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.

And in Arizona, Senate Republican candidate Blake Masters appeared to take a more congenial tone on the hot-button issue after he won his party’s primary in an interview with the Arizona Republic, calling the state’s 15-week law “a reasonable solution.” He previously called abortion in America a “genocide” and expressed support for stronger restrictions.

Democrats in swing states have hammered Republicans over abortion. According to AdImpact data, campaigns and groups have spent about $73 million referencing abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24; Democrats have accounted for about $57 million, or about 78%, of the spending. Like other Democrats, Murray has made the Supreme Court decision central to her campaign.

Months before Washington’s August 2 primary, Smiley signaled her support for Texas’ near-total ban on abortion, and said it’d be “awesome” to have former President Donald Trump’s support.

But in her ad, Smiley tried to undermine Murray’s effort tying her to Trump, who lost Washington state in 2020 by 19 points to Biden, as well as make clear her position on a federal abortion ban. Smiley explained that a picture of her and Trump used in Murray campaign advertising was for an event promoting advocacy for veterans health care – and aired another photo of her and Murray standing together.

“She shows you this picture of me and Trump, but doesn’t show you this one,” said Smiley.

Even though Democrats face a poor midterm environment as the party in power, Murray is the favorite in her race this fall. Washington last voted for a Republican for Senate in 1994, and Murray, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership and chair of the committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, is seeking a sixth term.

Smiley worked as a triage nurse until her husband Scotty, a military veteran, was blinded while serving in Iraq. The mother of three then helped him become the Army’s first blind active-duty officer.

“This ad reflects what this campaign will be about: The vision of a veterans advocate and nurse vs. the record of a career partisan politician,” said Smiley spokesperson Elisa Carlson.