For some U.S. Democrats, abortion isn't a top campaign topic

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WASHINGTON, July 15 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden and other top Democrats are pushing to make abortion a central issue as they try to retain control of the U.S. Congress in November elections. But on the ground, some of the party's most vulnerable incumbents are downplaying the issue.

From Maine to Arizona, several Democratic incumbents instead are emphasizing bread-and-butter issues like national security and job creation as they battle to retain their seats in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

Many are trying to survive in districts that have become more Republican as a result of 2020 redistricting by heavily Republican state legislatures.

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In the northwest corner of Ohio, Representative Marcy Kaptur is emphasizing the populist themes she has campaigned on since 1982 as she faces the toughest race of her career.

In campaign appearances, Kaptur is talking about reining in CEO pay and raising wages for blue-collar workers. Abortion "is not something she'll be talking about," according to a person familiar with the race, who asked not to be identified to talk frankly about it.

That's not what Biden and other Democratic leaders envisioned after the Supreme Court overturned its Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed a nationwide right to abortion.

"This fall, Roe is on the ballot," he said in a White House speech after the June 24 decision.

VOTERS SHIFT ATTENTION?

The court's decision was cheered by Republicans who have worked for decades to roll back abortion rights.

But it is less popular with the public.

Some 55% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a June Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Some analysts say the court's decision could help Democrats shift voters' attentions away from inflation and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. voters historically have treated mid-term elections, which occur halfway through a president's four-year term, as an opportunity to rein-in the president's party. This time around that would mean punishing Democrats by electing more Republicans.

But abortion could turn that formula on its head in 2022.

"If the focus is on a decision by the Republican-dominated Supreme Court, the Democrats will appear less as a power that needs to be balanced," said Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University in Ohio.

In Washington, Democrats are pushing abortion rights to the fore. The House of Representatives has repeatedly passed legislation that would establish abortion rights by law, but those bills have been blocked by Republicans in the Senate that is split 50-50 between the two parties. At least 60 votes are needed to advance most legislation.

Back home, some endangered Democrats are talking about the issue with voters.

In New Jersey, Representative Tom Malinowski has posted a dozen abortion rights messages on Twitter in the three weeks since the court's decision.

Residents of the suburban, Republican-leaning district largely support abortion rights, said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers. "These people tend to be influenced by very abrupt changes to social policy," he said.

But voters in some battleground districts tell Reuters that the economy, not abortion, was their top concern. read more

Public opinion polls put the economy at the top of voters' worries. Crime, guns and immigration are among the issues that follow, with abortion even further down the list.

In south Texas, Henry Cuellar, the only Democrat in the House to vote against abortion rights legislation last year, narrowly defeated a liberal challenger in a Democratic primary who was backed by abortion rights groups. The longtime conservative Democrat's campaign messages since then haven't mentioned the issue.

Likewise, Democrats Tom O'Halleran of Arizona and Jared Golden of Maine have barely campaigned on the issue, according to a Reuters review of campaign material.

In eastern Virginia, Representative Elaine Luria decried the Supreme Court decision on Twitter as "a blow to women’s rights." But recent campaign messages have emphasized her work to boost military spending and investigate the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Analysts caution that the issue could fade closer to Election Day as other events capture voters' attention.

"We can't be sure whether it will remain a highly salient issue four or five months from now," Sracic said.

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Reporting by Richard Cowan and Rose Horowitch; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Aurora Ellis

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