Run Like It’s 2004!

I feel like we are in a time warp.

Ten years ago, I wrote a post-election analysis on why Democrats failed in the 2004 election. Senator John Kerry had been the Democratic nominee for President. Kerry used the abortion boilerplate language endorsed by NARAL and embraced by most Democratic strategists since New York’s Governor Mario Cuomo’s famous speech years earlier arguing that an elected official should not try to impose his or her personal position on abortion on anyone else nor legislate on it. Therefore, even though Senator Kerry believed that life begins at conception, he stated that he would not vote to protect life. The party used Kerry’s example as an excuse to usher pro-life democrats out the back flap of the big tent with an arrogance that said our vote did not make a difference.

As a result, Senator Kerry lost to George Bush. The Republicans secured their 233-seat majority in the House and built to a 55-seat majority in the Senate. In the 2004 post-election analysis, I wrote, “Pro-life Democrats are not surprised by the outcome of this year’s elections. In fact, pro-life Democrats have been pleading with the national party for respectful inclusion in the party. Unfortunately, the “big-tent” party has allowed itself to be controlled by pro-choice forces and the Democratic party has suffered as a result.  For the past 25 years, pro-life Democrats have been leaving the party over the issue of abortion.”

A very slim Democratic majority is slipping away in the U.S. Senate, and there is no chance of regaining enough seats to take back the House. Yet, Democrats are using the same failed 2004 strategy again.

If this strategy did not work then, why try it again? I wrote in 2004 that “the truth is that some pro-choice forces in the Democratic Party would rather lose than run a pro-life candidate.” Sadly, that may be the case.

Like 2004, we have embraced the wrong candidates with a “no pro-life democrat need apply” policy.

  • In West Virginia, Democrat Natalie Tennant, endorsed by Emily’s List, is polling about 35 percent to Republican Shelly Moore Capito. This is a strong pro-life, Democratic state that has sent only two Republicans to the U.S. Senate in its history. A pro-life democratic candidate could have toppled Capito, who has a mixed record on abortion.
  • In both Arkansas and Louisiana, incumbent Senators Pryor and Landreiu are endangered because of their votes for health care reform and the alleged funding of abortion in the Affordable Care Act. Both candidates opposed public funding of abortion, but their voting records do not match the pro-life views of their constituency.
  • In Texas, Wendy Davis, propelled to stardom for her filibuster against a ban on late-term abortions, is not doing well in her run for governor. In fact, in the Democratic primary, Reynaldo “Ray” Madrigal ran with no money, no name recognition, and no political experience, but managed to win 7 counties and 20 percent of the vote.  In other words, one out of every five Democrats supported Madrigal. He ran on a pro-life platform.

Former House Speaker Tip O’Neil famously said, “All politics is local.”  When we forget that, we lose. As I said in 2004, “Every vote counts. That includes Democrats who are committed to protecting the rights of the unborn.” To win, we have to remember Speaker O’Neil’s words and run the best person for the district and keep our big tent open.