Stupak, Savaged By Both Sides, Is Calling It Quits

Bart Stupak, the eight-term Democratic congressman from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, will not seek re-election this year.

There are few people who follow politics in this country who don't recognize his name.

That was not always the case. First elected in 1992, the 58-year old Democrat has been quiet in Washington, though popular at home, winning at least 65 percent of the vote in his last four contests. His anti-abortion and pro-gun views fit in with the voters in his vast, mostly rural district.

But he has also incurred the wrath of the pro-choice movement, which was furious over his insistence of strong anti-abortion language in the health care bill. His "Stupak amendment," passed by the House last November, was supported by 64 Democrats, along with 176 of 177 Republicans. It is quite possible the measure would have gone down to defeat without it. Supporters of abortion rights decided that Stupak should be punished for jeopardizing the legislation, working to recruit a candidate to oppose him in the August primary. Some went even further; hate mail arrived at his house, along with threatening phone calls. Connie Saltonstall, a former teacher and ex-Charlevoix County commissioner, announced her candidacy for the Democratic primary and promptly won the backing of such groups as the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

Fast forward to last month, when the Stupak amendment was stripped out of the final House/Senate bill and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused Stupak's demands that the language be reinserted. Nonetheless, Stupak voted for the bill — citing President Obama's agreeing to sign an executive order ensuring that no federal money can be used for elective abortions under the new bill.

Then it was the pro-life community that went ballistic. They saw Stupak's vote as a betrayal ... or worse. Similar, or worse, hate mail and phone calls ensued, this time from the right. Some of the language I saw on Web sites are beyond the pale, not fit to be reprinted here. A politically unknown Republican, surgeon Dan Benishek, jumped in the race and won over many Tea Party supporters; other GOP candidates are also in the race. Here's a Tea Party ad urging Stupak's defeat:

The barrage was apparently too much for Stupak.

Today he will announce his decision not to run again. Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic broke the story this morning. Politico's Mike Allen & Josh Kraushaar report that Obama, Pelosi and other Democrats have called, pleading with him to run again.

Republicans, on the other hand, were gloating. Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said, "After selling his soul to Nancy Pelosi, it appears that Bart Stupak finally found the courage to tell her no. ... The political fallout over the Democrats' government takeover of healthcare has put the political careers of many Democrats in jeopardy thanks in-part to Stupak's decision to abandon his alleged pro-life principles."

The Tea Party Express, which was planning a pair of "Defeat Bart Stupak" rallies today, announced it would transform them into "victory parties for our supporters."

There will be a fierce fight for the seat, last held by a Republican in 1992, when Bob Davis retired after seven terms once the news broke of his House bank overdrafts. Politico lists several Democrats as potential candidates, including state Sens. Jim Barcia (a former congressman), Mike Prusi & Gary McDowell, and state Reps. Joel Sheltrown & Jeff Mayes.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: