Democratic candidate Pat Ryan speaks during a campaign rally on August 22, 2022, in Kingston, New York.
CNN  — 

The US Supreme Court decision wiping out federal abortion rights was only a few hours old when, in Washington, a group of Democratic lawmakers stood on the steps of the US Capitol singing “God Bless America.”

In upstate New York, though, Democrat Pat Ryan and his campaign team were scrambling to deliver a more potent reply, posting online an ad they had filmed shortly after the court’s draft opinion had leaked weeks earlier.

The appeal began like so many others, with a note on the Ulster County executive’s personal history: two tours in Iraq fighting “for our families, for our freedom.”

But the spot then pivoted, the music speeding up.

“How can we be a free country?” Ryan asked, “if the government tries to control women’s bodies? That’s not the country I fought to defend.”

The Ryan campaign’s quick messaging, delivered as abortion rights supporters filled the streets, came nearly two months to the day that he would defeat Republican Marc Molinaro, the moderate executive from neighboring Dutchess County, in a special election that attracted national attention. The result provided the clearest evidence yet that abortion rights are a powerful motivator for voters – both Democrats and, potentially, some moderate Republicans – ahead of the midterm elections.

It also further upended the long-running assumption, among candidates and operatives across partisan lines, that an inexorable Republican “red wave” was coming to wipe out Democrats in battleground districts across the country, saddled by President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and angst over the economy.

Ryan’s victory built on a run of encouraging signs for Democrats. While they have lost all other special House election since the court’s June decision, Democrats have improved on Biden’s 2020 margin in all four races – including in Nebraska and Minnesota, where Republican candidates prevailed but underperformed former President Donald Trump in each district by 6 percentage points. New York’s 19th District, meanwhile, is a proven national bellwether, having voted for Barack Obama in 2012, Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020.

“You are going to see a lot about individual freedom and the right of women to control their own bodies,” said Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of House Majority PAC, the leading outside group charged with keeping Democrats in control of the chamber. “Voters care about abortion rights and voters care about individual freedom, and they don’t like the fact that Republicans want to rip that right away.”