Every day, Summer Bailey saw congressional campaign signs placed in the succulent greenery near the entrance to Balboa Island in the heart of Newport Beach.

One belonged to Max Ukropina, a Republican businessman. The other was a sign for former Republican Assemblyman Scott Baugh. Both candidates are vying for Rep. Katie Porter’s seat in Congress, hoping to flip the Democratic-leaning district to Republicans as Porter runs for the U.S. Senate.

Last month, Bailey decided to add a third billboard to the mix, one that focused on abortion.

The small white sign read, “You are both anti-choice” in blue letters, with red arrows pointing to the Ukropina and Baugh signs. When they took his away, he put in another one.

Bailey, 60, a nonpartisan voter, calls the issue of women’s bodily autonomy her “rallying cry.”

“I know many pro-choice Republicans, both men and women, who may not choose to vote for a candidate based on that issue,” he said. “But I want all Republicans to know that this year, if you vote for your party, you are voting against women and against the bodily autonomy of the majority of Americans.”

Still, Bailey worries that abortion could get lost among the multitude of other issues voters are grappling with in this election, even as Democrats nationally continue to push the issue ahead of the March 5 primary.

Since the Supreme Court overturned the historic Roe vs. decision in 2022, Wade, abortion policy and the push for a federal ban on the procedure in the Republican-controlled House have been at the forefront of Democratic campaigns. But it remains unclear how well the issue mobilizes voters in the four Orange County districts that are expected to be among the most competitive in the country in this election.

A majority of Orange County voters, like California as a whole, support abortion access. In 2022, about 57.2% of county voters supported Proposition 1, which enshrined the right to abortion in the California Constitution.

That show of support came even as a majority of Orange County voters voted for Republicans running in state elections, including Sen. Brian Dahle for governor over incumbent Gavin Newsom.

In the 47th and 49th congressional districts, support for abortion was even higher, standing at 61%. Those districts extend largely along the Orange County coast, with the 49th District stretching all the way to San Diego.

Support for the measure in the 40th and 45th Wards was slightly lower than the county as a whole, about 55%, voter data shows. The 40th Congressional District includes the canyon communities of Orange County and extends into Riverside and San Bernardino counties, while the 45th District includes Little Saigon and extends into a section of Los Angeles County.

Beth Miller, a Republican strategist, is skeptical that the focus on abortion will drive an increase in voter turnout, particularly in swing districts like those in Orange County.

“Democrats want to keep it as an issue and that may be a good strategy in other parts of the country,” Miller said. “I just don’t think this issue is going to have the kind of impact it once could have given the protections in place in California.”

But Democrats are confident voters will support the issue even though it does not appear on the ballot in California.

Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized reproductive rights during a visit to San Jose last month, warning that Republicans could enact a federal abortion ban if they take control of Congress. She told Californians to remain “vigilant” and called reproductive freedom “one of the biggest issues of this election.”

In the 47th District, where Bailey lives, the two leading Democratic candidates, Joanna Weiss and Dave Min, have emphasized their pro-abortion rights stances in campaign ads.

Ukropina has said she favors leaving abortion policy in the hands of the states. Baugh told The Times in an interview that she is “pro-life” with exceptions for rape, incest and protecting the life of her mother. She added that she would not advocate or vote for a federal abortion ban.

In late January, EMILYs List, a liberal group that supports pro-choice candidates, announced that its super PAC, Women Vote, funded a $1 million ad buy in support of Weiss.

In the ad, a narrator warns that Republicans in Washington, DC, are pushing for a national ban.

“That’s why we need Democrat Joanna Weiss in Congress, the only one we can trust to take them on,” the ad continues. “In Congress, she will always protect our reproductive rights and freedoms.”

The purchase marked the largest independent spending for California House elections so far this cycle.

A spokesperson for EMILY’s List emphasized in a statement to the Times the importance of keeping the district blue if Democrats want to take control of the House and influence abortion policy at the federal level.

“Extremist anti-choice politicians will not stop until they deny every woman in the country their right to make their own health care decisions,” said Danni Wang.

Meredith Conroy, a political science professor at Cal State University in San Bernardino, believes abortion will be a mobilizing force, particularly among younger, more liberal voters.

“I think young voters are the least enthusiastic about a Trump-Biden rematch, but an issue like abortion might be enough to keep them engaged,” he said.

The abortion conversation has also intensified in Orange County’s 45th District, where Republican Rep. Michelle Steel faces four Democratic challengers, all of whom have emphasized their commitment to reproductive rights.

Candidate Kim Nguyen-Penaloza, a Democrat and Garden Grove councilwoman, has criticized Steel for “changing her mind” on her position on abortion.

Steel’s camp responded by saying that Steel has not changed his position, which allows abortion only in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother.

In 2021, a year before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Steel co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, a bill that aimed to recognize a fertilized egg as a person with equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Constitution.

Last January, House Republicans introduced identical legislation, which Steel signed about a year later. Days after she pledged her support, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a mass email criticizing her for “choosing to support extreme MAGA efforts to ban abortion nationwide, no matter how unpopular or dangerous these relentless attacks are.” ”.

Steel campaign spokesman Lance Trover dismissed the attack, saying, “Washington Democrats have spent four years lying about Michelle’s record, mocking her accent and launching sexist attacks.”

He added that Southern California voters trust Steel on issues that are critical in his district, including lowering the cost of living and fighting the Chinese Communist Party.

Miller said that while some moderate Central Committee Republicans and undecided voters might support abortion rights, the procedure may not be their top issue when it comes to selecting someone to send to Congress.

Ultimately, voters this cycle have a lot to think about, given the state of the economy and inflation, concerns about crime and education, he said.

“The question is: Are you willing to side with the candidate who talks to you about those issues but who may have a different opinion on abortion?”

By Sam