Stunning outcome in Kansas could be a watershed moment for Democrats
Abortion rights activists protest outside the US Supreme Court on June 30, 2022, days after it overturned the nationwide right to abortion

The stunning defeat of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment in the ruby-red state represents a political earthquake, signaling fresh momentum for pro-choice forces and raising Democratic hopes for the midterm elections. As dawn broke on the morning after the vote, some Democrats and abortion rights advocates argued that the result showed the power of the abortion issue to drive voters to the polls—even in one of the most reliably conservative states in the country.

Over 58% of Kansans voted against the measure that would have let the state’s lawmakers institute an almost total ban on abortion. The landslide shocked political pundits, in part because registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in Kansas, and also because earlier polling had suggested a very tight vote. Kansas is so deep red that it hasn’t supported a Democratic nominee for president since 1964.

“The voters in Kansas have spoken loud and clear: we will not tolerate extreme bans on abortion,” Rachel Sweet, the campaign manager for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, said in a statement to the New York Times.

The implications could stretch far beyond the sunflower state. Abortion advocates have argued that the Supreme Court’s shocking decision to repeal Roe vs Wade could motivate pro-choice voters to the polls, and Kansas marked the first concrete evidence that they might be right.

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National polling suggests most Americans oppose complete bans on abortion.

A recent Pew poll in July found that 62% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. A similar majority opposes the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal Roe vs Wade. Abortion is now the top issue motivating Americans to protest, according to a poll released Wednesday morning by Gallup.

And the surprise victory for pro-choice forces in Kansas presented a fresh datapoint indicating that current polling might even underestimate the impact of the abortion issue on voters.

Prior to Tuesday’s lopsided defeat for the amendment, one poll had indicated the measure might be about to succeed by a margin of 47% to 43%, with some undecided.

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Instead, turnout in the state exploded, and the huge wave of voters scrambled that calculus. A staggering 900,000 people cast ballots on the abortion measure Tuesday, according to early figures. By comparison, back in 2018, only 458,000 people voted in the state’s primary.

An analysis of the results showed that every single county in Kansas had shifted to the left, when the verdict on the amendment was compared with how the county voted in the 2020 election, noted Washington Post political reporter Philip Bump.

Democratic participation surged by more than 60 percent compared to 2018.

Democrats have been widely expected to lose control of the House, if not also the Senate, in this November’s midterm elections, in part due to historical trends. The party in power is generally expected to lose seats in the first midterm election of a new presidency, and voters have expressed dismay about runaway inflation and other issues.

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But some elected Democrats openly hailed the Kansas result as a watershed for their party going into November—and urged other Dems to seize the issue.

“I am begging pollsters and strategists to understand that passion is on the pro choice side,” tweeted Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii.

The issue could also resonate in statewide races, like Michigan.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer will face off against the Trump-backed, pro-life Republican, Tudor Dixon. If Kansas is any guide, abortion will feature heavily in the race, and play a big role in determining the outcome—if the issue can drive voter participation and shift votes to the left the way it seems to have done in Kansas.

RELATED: Conservative Kansas voters uphold right to abortion -- for now

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