Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights has emerged as a mobilizing force for Democrats, and the party is now looking to hang the issue around Virginia Republicans’ necks. Some conservative candidates are embracing the fight. But most seem eager to focus on anything else. Through mid-October, abortion was mentioned in over 40 percent of the ads from Democratic candidates for the state legislature, compared with 3 percent from Republican contenders.

Mr. Youngkin is not avoiding the debate entirely. This is, in fact, arguably the most delicate piece of his experiment, trying to turn the abortion issue back to Republicans’ advantage. He is pitching his 15-week plan as a “reasonable” compromise, and his PAC has poured $1.4 million into an ad campaign painting Democrats as dishonest extremists. On the trail, he comes at the topic obliquely, claiming the Democrats have nothing to offer but “fear” — of what, he doesn’t bother to say. He doesn’t need to; the crowds know what he means.

At one of the tour stops, I ask him to unpack this charge. “They’re saying we’re going to ban abortion. The reality is that they’re the ones who want to change the law,” he insists, noting that Democrats in the State Senate backed a constitutional amendment to codify abortion access. “We support a bill to protect life at 15 weeks, with full exceptions for rape and incest and when the mother’s life is at risk. We support common sense, and they support extremism.”

Except that a 15-week ban would, in fact, be a major change to Virginia law, which currently protects abortion access up to around 26 weeks. Also, the governor last year said he would “happily and gleefully” sign any abortion restrictions that passed the legislature. And, during his 2021 run, he was caught on tape saying, “When I’m governor, and I have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense” on the issue.

So you can see why abortion-rights supporters might be anxious.

“Are we scared?” asks Susan Swecker, the chairwoman of the Virginia Democratic Party. “Hell yeah! We are scared about what he and the MAGA Republicans are trying to do. But we are not making stuff up. We are very factual.”

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