News Politics

Quibbles Over Anti-Choice Purity Reveal GOP Extremism in Montana Primary

Emily Crockett

Even conservative candidates who support popular anti-choice measures like 20-week abortion bans might fail to satisfy a radically anti-choice Republican party, as U.S. House candidate Ryan Zinke is discovering in Montana.

Bans on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy have become a favorite strategy of the anti-choice movement to chip away at reproductive rights. But even conservative candidates who support these bans might fail to satisfy a radically anti-choice Republican party, as U.S. House candidate Ryan Zinke is discovering in Montana.

Zinke, fundraising frontrunner in the GOP primary, has a 100 percent voting record with Right to Life Montana, according to Gregg Trude, the group’s executive director. But Zinke is still being attacked as not “pro-life” enough by all of his major primary challengers, and he recently had a public spat with an anti-choice interest group over his position on abortion.

Three female representatives from the Concerned Women of America Legislative Action Committee told reporters that during a meeting with Zinke in March, he told them he supported legal abortion up until 20 weeks. Zinke flat-out accused the women of lying, and they accused him of lying in return.

“Ignoring questions and calling women liars are not the best ways to defend a stance, but for Ryan Zinke that may have been his only option,” said Andrea Marcoccio, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, in a statement.

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Zinke’s opponents have hammered him for getting a 65 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice Montana in 2009. The pro-choice group gave Zinke points for his votes against extreme “personhood” bills that would have defined life beginning at conception, thereby outlawing abortion and possibly some forms of contraception or in vitro fertilization.

Trude of Right to Life Montana said he advised Zinke at the time not to vote for the “personhood” bills because they were too extreme. The question of how extreme anti-choice politicians should be has been a subject of debate even for National Right to Life, which recently booted Georgia Right to Life for refusing to back exceptions for rape and incest in a national 20-week abortion ban.

The Montana Republican Party platform says it supports “the preservation of innocent human life at every stage of life beginning at conception through natural death.” But Zinke indicated a more realistic view of restricting abortion to the Montana Standard, saying that “Roe v. Wade is not a legislative issue” and that the best ways to make abortion rare are “education and prevention,” including birth control, as well as restricting government funding for abortion care.

Three former state Republican chairmen have also publicly criticized Zinke on choice, a move regarded as unusual by political observers and the party’s current chairman.

“There is a pretty deep concern among mainstream Republicans that [Zinke] is just not in the mainstream of the Republican Party,” Rick Hill, one of the former party chairs to criticize Zinke, told the Helena Independent Record.

With prominent “mainstream” or “establishment” Republicans like Mitch McConnell defeating their Tea Party opponents in primaries this year, the dominant media narrative has declared the Tea Party to be losing. But as some observers have noted, and as Montana’s GOP primary shows, the Tea Party’s influence is often more about enforcing right-wing ideological purity for the so-called establishment candidates than getting self-identified Tea Party candidates elected.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Dan Sullivan Wins GOP Senate Primary in Alaska

Teddy Wilson

Sullivan now faces incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who has said that Sullivan has "positions on women's health that are truly frightening." The race will likely play an important role in Republicans' efforts to regain control of the U.S. Senate this November.

Former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan captured the Republican nomination in the GOP Senate primary Tuesday, defeating Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Tea Party favorite Joe Miller. Sullivan was considered the Republican establishment favorite; his campaign contributors included former President George W. Bush.

Sullivan now faces incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich on the ballot in November.

The U.S. Senate campaign in Alaska may play an integral role in determining which party controls the Senate after the mid-term elections; Republicans need to pick up six seats in November to regain control. Since Begich represents a traditionally Republican state, the campaign there, which political observers view as very close, will likely play an important role in Republicans’ efforts to regain Senate control.

“I look forward to painting a clear contrast between Mark Begich’s inability to move our state forward and my vision for a brighter and better Alaska,” Sullivan said in a statement following the primary election, reported Reuters.

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Begich and Sullivan had exchanged political punches before Tuesday’s primary that showed reproductive rights would be a major campaign issue.

Prior to the primary election, Begich released an ad saying that Sullivan has “positions on women’s health that are truly frightening.” The ad points to Sullivan’s opposition to taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and companies denying birth control coverage to employees through their health insurance plans.

The ad cites Sullivan’s answers to Alaska Family Action’s candidate survey. Among the responses given by Sullivan was his support for banning abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. Senate Republicans introduced legislation in May that would ban abortion after 20 weeks, and are reportedly using the issue to strategically target vulnerable Senate Democrats.

Sullivan responded with his own ad calling Begich’s claims “flat out lies.” The ad also charges that Barack Obama’s “political machine” and Begich’s “liberal Washington friends” are the driving force behind his campaign.

Begich has made similar claims that Sullivan is influenced by outside groups, including the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the organization’s political arm, is purchasing online ads, as part of a $65,000 ad campaign in the state, to target Sullivan for his record on reproductive health. “Dan Sullivan has been slippery on some of his positions, so we want to make sure that when people are looking at this race … they have the information readily available from somebody they trust to give it to them,” Dawn Laguens, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told the National Journal.

Begich has built a record of supporting reproductive rights in his first term in the Senate after defeating embattled former senator Ted Stevens (R). The Begich campaign is also drawing a broader distinction between his record on women’s rights and his Republican rival’s.

While Begich touts his support of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Violence Against Women Act, Sullivan has avoided answering questions on his position on either pieces of legislation. Begich released an ad in April saying that Sullivan was on the wrong side of women’s issues, including fair pay.

The latest polling shows Begich with a four-point lead over Sullivan.

CORRECTION: The previous image attached to this article included the other Alaskan politician named Dan Sullivan, who is the mayor of Anchorage and is running for lieutenant governor in the 2014 election. We regret the error.

News Politics

Montana Democrats Pick Amanda Curtis for U.S. Senate Nominee

Teddy Wilson

Democratic delegates voted for Rep. Amanda Curtis over rancher Dirk Adams during a special convention held Saturday, four days before the August 20 deadline for the party to choose a candidate to appear on the November ballot.

Following incumbent Democratic Sen. John Walsh’s decision to withdraw his bid for re-election, the Montana Democratic Party selected state Rep. Amanda Curtis (D-Butte) as its nominee for U.S. Senate.

Democratic delegates voted for Curtis over rancher Dirk Adams during a special convention held Saturday, four days before the August 20 deadline for the party to choose a candidate to appear on the November ballot. Curtis received 64 percent of the 128 delegate votes cast.

Walsh came under heavy criticism after it was alleged that he plagiarized parts of a paper he wrote while pursuing a master’s degree at the U.S. Army War College. After the New York Times reported on similarities between his paper and another document authored by a scholar at Harvard, the college opened an investigation.

Walsh was appointed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock earlier this year to replace outgoing Sen. Max Baucus (D), who was tapped to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China.

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A joint statement by NARAL Pro-Choice America and NARAL Pro-Choice Montana said that Curtis’ nomination answered an “urgent call” from those who “demand a representative who will fight for the comprehensive health care to which they are entitled.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Montana Executive Director Maggie Moran said that Curtis was a strong choice because of her support for reproductive rights. “Curtis has demonstrated a commitment to women’s health and personal privacy at the state level,” said Moran. “Women will make the difference in this election, and today’s decision demonstrates that the Montana Democratic Party recognizes and respects this fact.”

Curtis was elected to the Montana House of Representatives in 2012, and was not seeking re-election in the upcoming race. However, she did express interest in a possible run for state senate in 2016.

Curtis will face U.S. Rep. Steve Daines (R-Montana at Large) in the general election. Elected in 2012, Daines has established an anti-choice voting record in his single term in the House. Daines co-sponsored and voted in favor of bills that would ban public funding of abortion care and ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation.

Daines is also a co-sponsor of so-called personhood legislation that would give constitutional rights to fertilized eggs, embryos, fetuses, and clones. Before his departure from the campaign, Walsh had released an ad criticizing Daines for his support of the legislation.

Despite having no campaign structure in place and no campaign funds, Curtis says she has a positive view of the possibilities of her campaign. “The national media and the political class have already said that this race is over,” Curtis told the Missoulian. “But I’ve got a secret: None of those folks got to vote in the state of Montana. If we win here in Montana — outspent, outgunned in a race where we were left for dead — it will send a powerful message to Washington, D.C. that we want change.”

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