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U.S. Supreme Court confirms draft ruling overturning abortion rights authentic
Anti-abortion and abortion rights advocates demonstrate during a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on May 3, 2022.Yasin Ozturk / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Abortion emerges as the top issue in May's campaign ads

Inflation, immigration also top the list

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Abortion — or a candidate’s official stance on the issue — was mentioned in 12 percent of the Senate, House and gubernatorial TV ads captured in May by the ad-tracking firm AdImpact, an NBC News analysis found.

The issue surpassed inflation and illegal immigration as a top theme in ads for the first time this year, according to the analysis. Out of the 586 ads tracked by AdImpact and reviewed by NBC News in May, 72 mentioned abortion, 67 mentioned immigration or the border and 53 mentioned inflation or rising costs.

Election integrity and voting rights were other major themes, with 21 commercials mentioning those issues.

The spike in ads mentioning abortion came the same month Politico obtained and published a leaked draft opinion of a Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and abolish abortion protections nationwide.

Some ads just listed a candidate as supporting or opposing abortion rights, but others featured abortion as the main theme of an ad.

For example, in Vermont, Democratic Rep. Peter Welch ran an ad exclusively focused on protecting abortion rights. Welch is seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate to fill retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy’s seat.

“This is a moment I hoped we’d never see. The Supreme Court is on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade, a decision that’s protected women for half a century,” Welch says in the ad.

“We cannot go backwards. I voted for legislation to make Roe v. Wade permanent. We can’t let the McConnell Republicans take control of the Senate and take away a woman’s right to choose,” he adds.

On the other side of the aisle, businessman Jesse Sullivan, who is running for the GOP nomination for governor in Illinois, released an ad highlighting his opposition to abortion rights and celebrating the news of the Supreme Court decision.

“In 2004, I rode a bus to march for life. Today, my wife and I are foster parents because we try to live our pro-life values,” Sullivan says in the ad.

“But [Democratic] Gov. Pritzker, he celebrates a culture of abortion over a culture of life, using our tax dollars to turn Illinois into the abortion capitol of the Midwest. That’s wrong,” Sullivan adds.

Another trend NBC News has tracked since January is the use of politicians indirectly targeted in ads. These “boogeymen” are figures or institutions that are generally unpopular among the voters being targeted in state, district or national ads.

Once again in May, president Joe Biden was the top "boogeyman" for Republican candidates for House, Senate and governor. He was named 53 times in ads in May. Since January, he’s been named in 175 political ads.

Most candidates cited Biden like Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., did in one ad where a narrator said, “Joe Biden’s policies are costing us more for gas and groceries. David Valadao is fighting back.”

Just like in April, China was the second-most cited "boogeyman" in political ads last month, with 18 ads blaming the country for certain economic problems facing the U.S.

One ad funded by Majority Forward, an outside group airing ads on behalf of Senate Democrats, blamed China for inflation and called out Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., for his record of being favorable to China.

“Everything is so expensive. It’s stretching our family thin. It never used to be like this. It’s tougher on us to make ends meet because America is too dependent on China, and Ron Johnson is making it worse,” a Wisconsin resident says in the ad.

Other figures that continued to be named in May were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with 13 mentions, White House Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci, with three mentions, and Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, with two mentions.