useless to draw sweeping conclusions from any off-year or special
election. Turnout can be a little
wacky (for example, it was much lower in VA than in 2008), and is often
dominated by older and high-frequency voters. At this writing, all the data aren’t in, so it’s too early to
delve too deeply into whether or how to project voter sentiment onto the course of future
That said, I believe that for supporters of reproductive
rights and justice, there is one important take-away from yesterday’s elections:
ultra-conservatives are emboldened. It has nothing to do with trends—it’s now a reality.
What will this mean?
First, we will see more challenges in Republican primaries. Despite losing the election in NY-23, conservatives
feel they took down a traitor, pro-choice Republican Dede Scozzafava. She was even considered by some to be more liberal than the Democrat,
though both she and Owens were pro-choice. Already, right-wing activists and tea-baggers,
led by FreedomWorks’ chair and former GOP House majority leader Dick Armey, are
preparing to challenge Republican candidates in more than a dozen House and
Senate races in 2010." "What you’re going to see," said Armey,
and conservatives across the country in primaries."
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It’s not just those anti-tax, socialist-fearing
FreedomWorks folks, but anti-choice activists who feel buoyed by the election. The Susan B. Anthony List, which
supports anti-choice women candidates, teamed up with the National Organization
for Marriage to mobilize votes for Conservative Party Candidate Doug
Hoffman. They spent $142,000 in the race,
including $11,000 in bundled contributions from organization members and sent nine
field staffers to the district. Their reason for this
investment? “The road to a GOP
majority is not paved with taxpayer-funded abortion, same-sex marriage and
Neither FreedomWorks nor SBA care that a House seat that
has been in Republican hands for more than 100 years is now held by a
Democrat. They would rather see a
Democrat than a moderate Republican hold the seat. One scenario that could result is that these emboldened
ultra-conservatives and the moderates keep fighting amongst themselves,
nominating unelectable candidates in races across the country. Will what is left of moderate Republicans disappear? Is that a good or a bad thing?
But this brings me to my other main concern about this
bolder, more visible ultra-conservative push. How will elected Democrats react? In the same breath that they were trumpeting their
so-called success, SBA used their election work to warn Congress about health
care: “Such success should serve
as a cautionary tale to Congress and the White House, whose overreach on health
care could experience a similar demise.” This of course is referring, in part at least, as “no
abortion coverage in health care.”
A problematic scenario that could result is that moderate Democrats,
too many of whom are already weak-in-the-spine on abortion rights, will use this as an excuse to throw
reproductive health under the bus—on health care coverage and beyond. This is avoidable if Democrats actually
look at real data. Exit polls show that NJ and VA elections were dominated by bread-and-butter issues of
economy and jobs, health care, and taxes.
There is no need to begin compromising on issues like reproductive
health in an attempt to placate voters.
It’s also avoidable if we can re-energize our base,
especially pro-choice and pro-health care women. Noted, it’s hard to motivate a base through
compromise, or when our president is shying away from reproductive rights so
publicly. But just as our
opponents are openly partnering with anti-gay marriage groups, we can form
partnerships with LGBT and other progressive partners to create a broader,
motivated core of advocates who can hold pro-choice officials accountable
before and after election day.
Only time will tell how this new phase of
ultra-conservatism among Republicans will play out over the next year. What do you predict–and how
should pro-choice, pro-reproductive justice advocates prepare and respond to
increased pressure from the teabag wing of the Republican party?