Politico: Abortion foes wage war on old allies

This article originally ran in Politico on April 22, 2010.


Abortion foes wage war on old allies
By Alex Isenstadt

Anti-abortion groups are poised to launch a multimillion-dollar offensive against a collection of former allies — House Democrats who also oppose abortion — in an effort to discredit their credibility with anti-abortion voters and oust them from office.

Four separate campaigns are in the works, aimed at anti-abortion House Democrats who voted for the health care bill and designed around the notion that those Democrats signed on to legislation that lacked restrictions ensuring that federal funds would not be spent to provide coverage for abortions.

Some of the targeted members — largely, though not exclusively, vulnerable and junior Democrats — voted for the bill after Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) cut a deal with the White House that President Barack Obama would sign an executive order ensuring that the bill would not provide such funding.

This week, the Family Research Council Action political action committee announced that it would spend $500,000 targeting 20 House Democrats — many of them freshmen from districts with a high concentration of voters who oppose abortion.

“These people were viewed as pro-life until they decided to fold. You’re not pro-life unless you vote the right way when you need to,” said Tom McClusky, the organization’s senior vice president. “The pro-life issue is not to be bought and sold.”

Another political action committee, the Campaign for Working Families PAC, which is run by longtime Christian evangelist and onetime Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, will announce within a week that it plans to spend $2 million on an independent expenditure effort targeting 12 to 15 House Democrats and several Democratic senators.

“We do think a number of these people committed political suicide on that vote,” Bauer told POLITICO. “On an issue as fundamental as life, if you can’t trust where your elected official is on this, you can’t trust them on anything.”

In addition, the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization that aims to elect female candidates who oppose abortion, will soon launch a $1 million campaign targeting five House Democrats that will be spent on TV, radio and an on-the-ground informational effort.

Another PAC that plans to weigh in, the Concerned Women Political Action Committee, said it will bundle $10,000 to $15,000 for candidates running against anti-abortion House Democrats who backed the bill. The organization will also launch an independent expenditure campaign.

The issue is a sensitive one for the targeted Democrats, many of whom hail from socially conservative districts, because it threatens to undermine their credentials and support among politically active abortion opponents.

“It will be very, very hard for them to present themselves as pro-life Democrats. It will be difficult for them to say that with a straight face because of the counter-messaging that will be going on in their races,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “It was very clear that we had to respond decisively to the sellout on behalf of these pro-life Democrats — and we are.”

“Our goal is certainly to make it hard for them to run under that label,” Bauer said.

In some cases, the Democrats who are now in the cross hairs had enjoyed high marks from anti-abortion groups. Indiana Reps. Joe Donnelly — who on his campaign website declares, “I have consistently opposed abortion and will continue to do so in Congress” — and Brad Ellsworth have each received 76 percent ratings from Family Research Council Action PAC.

Concerned Women for America, however, plans to attack both lawmakers. The organization plans to endorse Republican Jackie Walorski against Donnelly in his South Bend-based district and also plans to wade into the Indiana Senate race, where Ellsworth is running as the Democratic nominee.

“A lot of these guys campaigned saying, ‘I’m a pro-lifer,’” said Mike Mears, executive director of the Concerned Women for America PAC. “They had their chance. This was a very critical vote.”

West Virginia Reps. Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall, two veteran anti-abortion House Dems, have also lost support among abortion foes over their support for the bill.

Last week, the National Right to Life PAC announced that it was endorsing both primary and general election candidates running against Mollohan and Rahall.

“National Right to Life PAC is not going to support anyone who voted for the health care bill because of the abortion and rationing components contained in the bill,” David N. O’Steen, executive director of National Right to Life, wrote in an e-mail.

Mollohan, who acknowledged feeling some pressure over the issue, said he was confident the bill offered sufficient protections restricting funding for abortion coverage.

“They have been concerned about my vote and they have expressed that, and they have taken a very strong position that the vote on the health care bill was not the pro-life vote they were looking for,” Mollohan told POLITICO. “I disagree that it’s not a pro-life vote.”

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), an 18-term House member and veteran abortion opponent, took umbrage at the attacks on Democrats who had otherwise embraced the anti-abortion platform.

“Members have to defend themselves, but the facts are on the side of the Democratic right-to-life members,” Oberstar told POLITICO. “It was good enough for these groups that George Bush signed an executive order to affirm that stem cell research was off the table, then they chose not to accept the executive order of this president reaffirming past law, past practice and affirming that for the future. So they’re without merit.”

Some in the anti-abortion movement conceded that attacking their longtime Democratic collaborators — who have a small but influential role within the House majority — hasn’t been easy.

McClusky, for his part, acknowledged that in taking on Mollohan, a longtime ally who holds a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, the anti-abortion movement risked alienating a friend.

“The last thing we want to do is take out an Appropriations Committee member who was on our side,” said McClusky. “And the last thing we want to do is to take out a Democrat on our side.”

James Hohmann contributed to this report.

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