Lands, a Democrat who ran on reproductive rights, flips seat in Alabama House

Marilyn Lands, a Democrat who ran a campaign centered on reproductive rights, on is photographed on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Lands defeated Republican Teddy Powell to win the open legislative seat, according to unofficial returns Tuesday, March 26. Powell, a member of the Madison City Council, Ala., issued a statement conceding the race and congratulating Lands on her victory. ( Marilyn Lands via AP)

Marilyn Lands, a Democrat who ran a campaign centered on reproductive rights, on is photographed on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Lands defeated Republican Teddy Powell to win the open legislative seat, according to unofficial returns Tuesday, March 26. Powell, a member of the Madison City Council, Ala., issued a statement conceding the race and congratulating Lands on her victory. ( Marilyn Lands via AP)

Marilyn Lands, who campaigned on abortion rights in deeply conservative Alabama, won a special election to the Alabama Legislature, in a victory that Democrats say illustrates voter backlash to extreme reproductive restrictions imposed by Republicans.

Lands, a Democrat, on Tuesday decisively defeated Republican Teddy Powell to win the open House of Representatives seat in a suburban district that — while increasingly politically moderate — had long been held by the GOP. Her victory was celebrated by Democrats who said it underscores the importance of reproductive rights as an issue across the country ahead of the 2024 elections.

“Voters want something different, and I think they are tired of women’s freedoms and reproductive health care not being addressed,” Lands told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Alabama bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy with no exception for pregnancies arising from rape. Lands’ victory comes several weeks after in vitro fertilization services were temporarily paused in the state after the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling equating frozen embryos to children.

Lands, a licensed mental health counselor, had also campaigned on education and economic development issues, but took square aim at the state’s abortion ban, at times invoking the deeply personal to do so. She shared her story of obtaining an abortion two decades ago after genetic testing determined the baby had trisomy 13, a genetic disorder, and could not survive.

Lands said she made the decision to tell her own story after speaking with a woman who had to leave Alabama to obtain an abortion after receiving a similar fetal diagnosis.

“I saw the parallels in our story. And I shared my story of course with her. The story really contrasts that two decades later, we’ve gone backwards, and women have fewer freedoms,” Lands said.

As she knocked on doors across the district, Lands said was struck by how many women volunteered their own stories. Some were like her own. Others involved miscarriages or struggles with fertility.

“I feel like that so many of these women’s health issues and family health issues can be very isolating for people. And I hope that maybe part of what’s happening here is we are opening up a dialogue to where people realize how common these kinds of things are,” Lands said.

The win was a victory for Democrats in the Deep South state where Republicans hold all statewide offices and a lopsided majority in the Legislature.

President Joe Biden’s 2024 campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, said the results in Alabama “should serve as a major warning sign for Trump” that “voters will not stand for his attacks on reproductive health care.”

Alabama Republican Party Chairperson John Wahl disputed that the race outcome is a bellwether with implications beyond that district. He said it was a low-turnout election in a “purple district where Democrats always had a chance.”

“Pretending that this election reflects on the entire state of Alabama is disingenuous and shows either a lack of understanding of the political landscape or an attempt to mislead voters,” Wahl said.

Lands’ victory came in a suburban district that is considered more politically moderate than other GOP-held ones. The Madison County district includes parts of Madison and Huntsville, which is home to the Army’s Redstone Arsenal and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. While former President Donald Trump captured 62% of the vote across Alabama in 2020, he won just under 53% of the vote in Madison County.

There were just under 6,000 votes cast in Tuesday’s special election compared with more than 14,000 cast in 2022, when Lands lost to Republican David Cole. The legislative seat became open again after Cole stepped down and pleaded guilty to a voting fraud charge that he rented a closet-size space to fraudulently run for office in a district where he did not live.

Former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, the last Democrat to hold statewide office in Alabama, said Lands’ victory was partly fueled by frustration with extremist policies put in place by the state GOP.

“They’re going too far. You talk about an activist government. This is a government in Alabama that wants to encroach on every aspect of people’s lives,” Jones said.

He said Lands’ victory could be a positive sign for Democrats in future Alabama races, but he cautioned against overreaching on what it represents. Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in a 2017 special election but lost in 2020 to current U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville.

“I mean, people saw my election in 2017 as like, ‘Oh my God, we flipped Alabama blue.’ Well, that’s not the case. And in fact, I’m not one to advocate flipping the entire state one way or the other,” Jones said. He added that one-party rule, regardless of the party, has not been good for the state.

“We need competition, and that’s what Marilyn provided,” Jones said.

AP Politics

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