WA leading Democratic Party campaigner has signaled openness to pro-life candidates, continuing months of controversy over the party’s future.
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in charge of helping Democratic congressional candidates, told The Hill there would be no “litmus test” for candidates on abortion when it comes to funding their campaigns.
The comments drew support from Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America. “We have been advocating for years that the Democratic Party needs to open itself up to the viewpoints of more than 20 million pro-life Democrats,” Day said Aug. 1. “Our party, which advocates for diversity and inclusion, has been sending mixed messages about inclusion for its pro-life members,” said Day, adding the statement shows “that Democrats are serious about winning again."
Democrats for Life cited the loss of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, traditionally strong Democratic states, in the 2016 presidential election. The states are “very pro-life,” the organization said. Lujan’s remarks focused on winning a majority of 218 votes in the House of Representatives, which would require winning 24 seats in the 2018 elections.
“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” he told TheHill.com. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.” “We’ll need a broad coalition to get that done,” he said. “We are going to need all of that, we have to be a big family in order to win the House back.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List and an advisor to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign, said the Democratic party’s official abortion stand has cost it. “Democrats’ extreme pro-abortion platform has lost more votes than it has gained and led to defeat in the last two election cycles,” she said, citing a Gallup poll reporting that 32 percent of Democrats consider themselves pro-life.
At the same time, Dannenfelser said Lujan’s comments are “not the same as concrete policy endorsements.” “Only changes in the party platform that represent majority views and momentum, like that of the Pain-Capable bill, will signify true change,” she said, referring to a bill that bars abortion when the unborn child is believed to feel pain.
Pro-abortion rights groups, however, criticized Lujan’s comments and downplayed any claimed advantage in backing pro-life candidates. NARAL Pro-Choice America national campaigns director Mitchell Stille rejected as “sadly mistaken” any claim that President Trump and Republican candidates won in 2016 because of opposition to abortion.
The Democratic Party’s abortion support was a focus of controversy in the early 2017 campaign of Heath Mello, a Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha, Neb. In mid-April former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez publicly supported Mello.
Mello had supported abortion restrictions in the past as a state senator, and was endorsed by Nebraska Right to Life in 2012, but received a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska in 2015. Mello had pledged not to do anything as mayor that would restrict “access to reproductive health care.” Nonetheless, pro-abortion rights groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America criticized the Perez and Sanders endorsements as “politically stupid.”
DNC chair Tom Perez responded to criticism by appearing to strongly reject any openness to pro-life candidates. “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” he said April 21. “This is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.” At the time, a DNC aide told The Hill this statement did not represent a litmus test.
Dannenfelser said Aug. 1 that some Democrats are starting to recognize their vulnerability on abortion, even though “abortion lobby leaders are beside themselves over the mere suggestion that a pro-life Democrat be permitted to run.” In 2006, the last time the Democrats won the House of Representatives from Republican control, the party recruited and supported several pro-life Democrats.