Monday, August 15, 2005

To win votes, Democrats mull becoming conservative

Sick of losing elections, the Democrats, led by Rep. Jim Obestar from Minnesota, are trying to reinvent the image of their party. What's next, Howard Dean standing with Michele Bachmann against gay marriage?

Democrats seek dialogue on abortion

Kevin Diaz

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Democrats looking for a new voice on abortion are getting help from Rep. Jim Oberstar, an abortion opponent from Minnesota's Iron Range who is pushing to broaden the party's message on the issue.

He is one of several leading Democrats playing a prominent role on Capitol Hill to find common ground between the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Democrats for Life of America, which has long felt shunned by the party.

The effort comes as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, now DNC chairman, tries to respond to last year's election by looking for a more nuanced message on such issues as gay marriage and abortion.

Sensitivities have come into focus in recent weeks as abortion takes center stage in the confirmation battle over Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. Even as liberal groups scrutinize Roberts' position on abortion, some Democrats hope to make the party's campaigns more inclusive and less identified with the issue.

"I just feel that the party needs to be neutral on the subject, or at least welcoming of those who have a different view," Oberstar said.

He, along with representatives from Democrats for Life and more than a dozen other House Democrats opposed to abortion, met recently with Dean and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Nobody is expecting the Democrats to drop their abortion-rights plank, but Dean and other top party officials appear receptive to finding new ways to reach out to socially conservative voters who might otherwise vote Democrat.

"The Democratic Party is a pro-choice party. That has not changed. But we can't afford to write people off," said DNC spokesman Josh Earnest. "We need to reframe the debate."

One Democratic strategy has already emerged since the defeats of 2002 and 2004. It centers on contraception and sex education initiatives.Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton, D-N.Y., a potential 2008 presidential candidate, was widely seen as trying to stake out the center in a speech earlier this year in which she talked about the importance of reducing the number of abortions.

Some Democrats also hope that, politically, putting the spotlight on birth control
could isolate some religious conservatives, who some Democrats believe can be portrayed as out of the mainstream in their emphasis on sexual abstinence education.

Shifting ground

Whether such a strategy will neutralize the abortion issue remains to be seen.

"Those who want to keep abortion legal do have to switch the debate, and they're trying to talk about contraceptives and birth control," said Carol Tobias, political director for the National Right to Life Committee, the nation's largest lobby group
against abortion.

"We're not going to get drawn into a debate on contraceptives. That's not the issue."
Tobias noted that Clinton has not in any way backed off her support for abortion rights.The search for middle ground poses other complications for Democrats as well.

The trickiest part, said University of Minnesota political science Prof. Larry Jacobs, is the enormous support Democrats have within the party for their position of keeping abortion legal.

Jacobs said: "What Oberstar is trying to do is a pretty big deal. Even though it's a subtle shift, it's potentially a real flash point."

Leaders in the DNC and their abortion-rights allies tend to minimize the rift.

"There have always been pro-life Democrats and I've served with them," said former Montana legislator Nancy Keenan, now president of NARAL, the nation's leading abortion-rights lobby.

But Keenan said the ground is shifting:

"There's a very broad area that's important to talk about in this country, including preventing unintended pregnancies, access to birth control, emergency contraception, and, of course, accurate sex education. That's where we're all moving."


But not everybody's moving in harmony, said Oberstar, a board member of Democrats for Life.Democrats opposed to abortion are still smarting from their rebuke at the 1992 Democratic Convention, where Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, who opposed abortion, was not allowed to address the delegates. Casey died in 2000.

"It was an unnecessary poke in the eye," Oberstar said. DNC officials say they have been painted with too broad a brush on abortion.

Earnest notes that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has a stance against abortion. Dean, who sat on the board of Planned Parenthood in Vermont, is said to be committed to reaching out to social conservatives across the nation, particularly in the South.

Among those the DNC would target, Earnest said, are voters who are personally opposed to abortion, but who favor others' right to make their own decisions.

The message Democratic abortion foes have been taking to Dean and other party leaders is that to win Republican-leaning seats and reclaim control of Congress, Democrats are going to have to run more abortion opponents.

Democrats opposed to abortion are drafting a bill in Congress known as the "95-10 Initiative," a proposal to reduce the number of abortions in America by 95 percent over the next 10 years, primarily by stressing adoption.

"Lots of Democrats I know are committed to reducing abortions and protecting the most vulnerable in our society," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., also a member of Democrats for Life.

But in the Democratic Party, Oberstar says, he and Peterson are out of the mainstream, to the detriment of the party.

He estimates that in 1975, his first year in Congress, there were 138 Democrats
opposed to abortion in the House. Now, he believes there are about 38.

"Those other 100 districts haven't stopped sending representatives to Congress," Oberstar said. "They're just not sending Democrats."
(Source: Star Tribune, August 15, 2005)

The Democrats, for better or for worse, have defined themselves as the party of gay marriage and abortion. By trying to distance themselves from the very issues that hold their party together, the Democrats are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of hard working blue color Midwestern voters. Luckily for us, it won’t work. Reps. Peterson and Obestar, if you two are in any way ostracized from your party, you are certainly welcome in ours.


At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then we'll take Jim Ramstad.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger GOPWingman said...

While I respectfully disagree with Congressman Ramstad on the issue of abortion and embyronic stem cell research, he is not an abortion-on-demand wacko like the majority of Democrats. He supported banning partial birth abortion and voted in favor of making it two crimes (instead of one) to murder a pregnant woman. Other than on that issue and some environmental issues, he's pretty conservative.


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