by Steven Ertelt
January 5, 2006
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Pro-life Democrats have hoped for years that their party leadership would embrace them despite their views against abortion. Though the party isn’t changing its stance on the issue, it is looking to more pro-life candidates in states where pro-abortion candidates haven’t fared well.
Brad Ellsworth, a southern Indiana county sheriff, is an example of the new breed of pro-life Democrats the party is supporting.
Ellsworth is different from a long-line of pro-abortion candidates who have failed to knock off pro-life Rep. John Hostettler, a Republican, in what is a Democrat-leaning but strongly pro-life Congressional district.
He opposes abortion and says he’ll put his "family values up against anybody.”
Elaine Kamarck, a former adviser to President Clinton and to Al Gore’s presidential campaign, told Bloomberg News that a candidate like Ellsworth is the "lesson of 2004" and shows "the party making a decision to be more inclusive."
Jennifer Duffy, a congressional analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, agrees and told Bloomberg that some of the candidates the party is backing show it beginning to understand how pro-abortion candidates with otherwise strong political pedigrees lost because of voters’ pro-lie views and other culturally conservative positions.
"There are some in the national Democratic leadership who think perhaps [abortion] has become too much of a litmus test in the party, and it hurts them," Duffy explained.
Other examples of pro-life Democrats the party is backing for Congress include Elwyn Tinklenberg in Minnesota and Heath Shuler in North Carolina.
But none will receive as much attention as U.S. Senate candidate and state Treasurer Bob Casey, the son of the former Pennsylvania governor and pro-life Democratic champion Bob Casey. The elder Casey became a hero for pro-life advocates after Democrat leaders refused to allow him to speak at a national convention.
"This is a much larger field than it’s been in the past,” Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said of the pro-life candidates. "We have folks in that group who aren’t necessarily with the national party on every single issue but do reflect the makeup of the congressional district.”
Ellsworth told Bloomberg News that his pro-life position should take the issue of abortion off the table.
"If you’re a pro-life voter and you get past that, that we’re both pro-life, then they’ll have to compare us on other things,” Ellsworth explained. "That’s where I think I will win.”
But that may not be the case since most of the pro-life Democrat candidates are challenging pro-life incumbents, lawmakers like Hostettler who have gone to bat for the pro-life cause for years by sponsoring key legislation and compiling strong pro-life voting records.
Pro-life organizations typically support incumbents who have been willing to stand up for pro-life values and candidates like Ellsworth may find themselves losing the pro-life vote because they don’t have the same kind of track record.
Still, Kristen Day, the director of Democrats for Life of America, is pleased the party is relenting on some of its single issue loyalty in favor of abortion. She called the fact that the party is backing some pro-life candidates and recruiting others a "big step."
But the decisions are not endearing the party to uncompromising abortion advocates who have had a decades-long stranglehold on party leadership.
"It’s a huge mistake for the Democratic Party to go out and recruit candidates who would not support the platform of the party,” said Gloria Feldt, former president of Planned Parenthood, told Bloomberg News. "It weakens them in terms of energizing the base and in terms of being able to negotiate once people are elected.”