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Fate of Florida's strict, new abortion law will be decided by voters in November

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Florida is one of several states where abortion access will be on the ballot in November. Voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment protecting abortions up to 24 weeks. It would undo an imminent ban on abortion after six weeks. Democrats see abortion rights as an opportunity in an increasingly red state. Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Florida Democrats are upbeat about their prospects in November. And this week, they got another shot of hope.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Hello, Florida.

ALLEN: President Biden held a campaign event in Tampa, focusing on Florida's six-week abortion ban, set to take effect on May 1.

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BIDEN: Next week, one of the nation's most extreme anti-abortion law will take effect here in Florida. It's criminalizing reproductive health care for - before women even know whether they're pregnant.

ALLEN: It's not long ago that Florida was the nation's most important swing state, divided almost equally between Republicans and Democrats, and up for grabs in a presidential election year. In recent years, though, things changed.

Republicans have almost a million more registered voters than Democrats now and hold every statewide office. Democrats believe concern about Florida's six-week abortion ban and support for the abortion rights referendum will boost turnout and mobilize support for their candidates in November. The state's Democratic Party chair, Nikki Fried, predicts that in this election, Florida will return to its status as a presidential battleground state.

NIKKI FRIED: We have an opportunity to flip the state because independent voters are breaking for Democrats 65- to 70% in the recent election cycles here in our state. And reproductive rights are taking center stage in this election cycle.

ALLEN: Polls show abortion access is not the top issue for Floridians, trailing concerns about immigration and the economy. But it is a potent issue that could galvanize voters, with polls showing a majority opposing the six-week ban and supporting the abortion rights referendum. The Biden campaign says abortion has put the state in play for Democrats, including the president's reelection bid.

Fernand Amandi, a pollster and Democratic consultant in Miami, says he thinks it's unlikely Biden's campaign will end up making a big push in Florida. But he believes the abortion issue will have an impact on other races on the November ballot.

FERNAND AMANDI: Whether they be district races for Congress or the Florida legislature, I think there is where the increased turnout around not just the abortion issue, but just the disenchantment that a lot of Floridians feel over the Republican stewardship of the state, I think Democrats could benefit from.

ALLEN: Abortion has already become the focus in Florida's U.S. Senate race. Florida's six-week abortion ban has put Republican Senator Rick Scott in a difficult position. He's made conflicting statements, saying, as governor, he would have signed the six-week ban, then later saying he would've preferred a ban on abortion after 15 weeks. His likely Democratic challenger, former Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, is making it a central part of her campaign.

DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL: This is an issue that drives Republicans, Democrats, independents to the ballot box. It's an issue that's central to the dignity of a woman. And it's central to the health care, the safety of a woman.

ALLEN: For Democrats to do well in November, they will have to overcome history and demographic trends in Florida that favor Republicans. It's been six years since a Democrat was elected to a statewide office. Under Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida has become a laboratory for conservative policies, making the state a mecca for like-minded transplants. But Amandi says Florida's Democratic Party also bears some of the blame.

AMANDI: The poor performance, the poor investment, the poor administration of the Florida Democratic Party, which basically is at a low point in terms of its influence and its effectiveness.

ALLEN: Under party chair Fried, the state's former agriculture commissioner, Democrats are reorganizing. She suspended county party chairs whom she felt were underperforming. And she's begun a drive to recruit Democratic candidates for congressional and legislative races where Republicans currently are uncontested.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.