Abortion? It’s All About the Economy for Many Iowa Voters

Lynda Waddington

In nearly any other election in recent memory, the accusation that a Republican candidate in Iowa not only supported abortion but had participated in one would have been big news -- if not a political kiss of death. Not this year.

In nearly any other primary or general election in recent memory, the
accusation that a Republican candidate not only supported abortion but
had materially participated in one would have been big news — if not a
political kiss of death. Not this year. Rising fuel and food costs have
not only squeezed the wallets of Iowa’s middle class but have narrowed
their outlook as well.

"I heard about that," said Jennifer Baumer
of Cedar Rapids when asked about the recent false accusation launched
against Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa ophthalmologist and former
Army nurse who is seeking the Republican nomination in the 2nd District
congressional race. "When I heard it, I thought, ‘Politics as usual.’
It’s difficult this year to get all fired up about it when I’m worried
about how I’m going to fill my gas tank and get myself to work."

The accusation that Miller-Meeks had performed an abortion came from
Republican opponent Lee Harder, a former chaplain at the Mount Pleasant
Correctional Facility. Harder did remove the incorrect accusation from
his Web site after being contacted by Miller-Meeks. In addition,
Miller-Meeks has removed from the "beliefs" portion of her Web site the
following statement: "Abortion should not be the primary method of
birth control."

In the great scheme of things, according to those interviewed in and
around the 2nd District, neither should have bothered. Abortion, or any
myriad of the traditional socially conservative issues that have seemed
to decide other elections, simply aren’t the top concern right now.

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"I think it would be an issue for me if I didn’t have so many other
worries on my plate," said Baumer, who has voted primarily for
Republicans in the past. "The way the economy is right now — the
housing crisis, gasoline and fueling costs, the grocery bills, health
insurance premiums and co-pays — I think our time is better spent on
conversations of how we are going to provide for the people here right

It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Randy Sanders, an Iowa City
Republican who said his vote will not automatically go to the candidate
he believes to be the most socially conservative.

"In the past, I just wanted to know who was pro-life and
pro-family," he said. "That was my primary issue, and I figured that
since that usually kept me in the Republican column, it would keep my
views on conservative government in check too. That hasn’t necessarily
been the case.

"I’m not sure if we should have [gone] into Iraq, but I do think now
we cannot leave until we have victory. At that same time, I see the
reports of our infrastructure, of the government bailing out companies
that made millions in no-check home loans, and I have to wonder if
we’re on the right track. I’ve swallowed a bitter pill by believing
that the other things didn’t matter as much."

It’s a message that hasn’t been lost on Miller-Meeks. While
discussing the false accusation, she told The Cedar Rapids Gazette that
social issues may not be the deciding factor for voters "if they can’t
afford to put gas in the car, if they can’t find a job and can’t put
food on their families’ table." While her two opponents — Harder and
Cedar Rapids businessman Peter Teahen — both brandish the "pro-life"
label, she has argued that abortions should be reduced by policies that
support families.

"It’s not enough to stand up and say that you’re pro-life anymore,"
said Gerald Harlow as he watched the number on the pump spin while
filling up his car. "I want our politicians to show me that they are
really and truly pro-life. That is, I want it to mean more than trying
to end abortion. What are they going to do? Throw women in jail who
have abortions? I want them to say that they are going to support life
— yours, mine, everyone’s. Maybe instead of ‘pro-life’ I’d like to see
a politician who says he’s ‘pro-people.’ Then again, I’d like to see $2
gas again… that’s probably just about as likely."

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