Dem’s sug­ges­tion an­ger­ing party

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Bill Bar­row and David Crary AP file

The pro­posal seemed mod­est in to­day’s po­lar­ized po­lit­i­cal cli­mate: The head of the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee sug­gested his group may help fund can­di­dates who didn’t share the party’s sup­port for abor­tion rights.

The back­lash from abor­tion-rights ac­tivists and or­ga­ni­za­tions was quick and harsh. The ba­sic mes­sage: Don’t go there.

A coali­tion of pro­gres­sive groups, in­clud­ing Planned Par­ent­hood and NARAL Pro-Choice Amer­ica, is­sued a “state­ment of prin­ci­ples “chal­leng­ing the party to be un­wa­ver­ing in its sup­port for abor­tion rights. Scores of women who have had abor­tions made the same point in an open let­ter to House Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a staunch abor­tion­rights sup­porter who nonethe­less says there’s room in the party for op­pos­ing views.

“The DCCC should not be sup­port­ing any politi­cian who does not re­spect a woman’s right to con­trol her body,” said Karin Roland, of the women’s rights group Ul­tra­vi­o­let. “There is no fu­ture of the Demo­cratic Party with­out women — so stop be­tray­ing them for a mis­guided idea of what’s needed to win elec­tions.”

The lat­est brush fires were sparked this week by the DCCC chair­man, Rep. Ben Ray Lu­jan of New Mex­ico, when he told The Hill news­pa­per that the com­mit­tee is will­ing to aid can­di­dates who op­pose abor­tion rights. His core ar­gu­ment: Democrats — af­ter a se­ries of dis­may­ing losses in na­tional and state elec­tions — will only re­claim power by win­ning in GOP-lean­ing dis­tricts and states where the lib­eral base can’t de­liver vic­to­ries on its own.

A DCCC of­fi­cial, Mered­ith Kelly, said Lu­jan isn’t look­ing specif­i­cally for abor­tion-rights op­po­nents, even in con­ser­va­tive dis­tricts. But, she added, “We are work­ing right now to re­cruit can­di­dates who rep­re­sent Demo­cratic val­ues and who also fit the dis­tricts they are run­ning in.”

The cur­rent Congress is al­most mono­lithic when it comes to abor­tion. Only a small hand­ful of Re­pub­li­cans vote in fa­vor of abor­tion rights; a sim­i­larly small num­ber of Democrats sup­port re­stric­tions on abor­tion.

Some Demo­cratic of­fi­cials sug­gest the ar­gu­ment over Lu­jan’s re­marks is overblown — a hand­ful of out­liers won’t change the agenda if Democrats re­claim con­gres­sional ma­jori­ties. Abor­tion-rights lead­ers have a dif­fer­ent view.

“Ev­ery time the Democrats lose an elec­tion, they start cast­ing about in ways that are deeply dam­ag­ing to the base,” NARAL pres­i­dent Il­yse Hogue said. “If they go out and start re­cruit­ing anti-choice can­di­dates un­der the Demo­cratic brand, the mes­sage is, ‘We’re will­ing to sell out women to win,’ and po­lit­i­cally that’s just sui­cide.”

Dawn Laguens, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Planned Par­ent­hood, said politi­cians who per­son­ally ob­ject to abor­tion should be wel­come in the Demo­cratic Party — as long as they don’t vote to im­pose that view on oth­ers.

Sup­port­ing can­di­dates who voted that way, said Laguens, would be com­pa­ra­ble to sup­port­ing can­di­dates who voted against LGBT-rights.

“Th­ese are fun­da­men­tal is­sues that Democrats have staked their world view around,” she said.

Stephen Sch­neck, a long­time po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Catholic Univer­sity and board mem­ber with Democrats for Life of Amer­ica, con­tends that the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship would ben­e­fit from more di­verse views on abor­tion.

“In­ter­nal ten­sions are re­ally good for a party,” he said, cit­ing polls show­ing that more than 20 per­cent of Demo­cratic vot­ers op­pose abor­tion in most cases.

In some re­spects, Lu­jan’s re­marks don’t rep­re­sent a new stance for the Democrats’ cam­paign ap­pa­ra­tus. The Demo­cratic Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion in 2015 helped John Bel Ed­wards, an anti-abor­tion Catholic, win the Louisiana gov­er­nors’ race, an up­set in a Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated state.

The gov­er­nors’ group is now eye­ing the 2018 race for gover­nor in Kansas. The Demo­cratic field in­cludes for­mer leg­is­la­tor and agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner Joshua Svaty, who had an anti-abor­tion record in the Kansas House.

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