Under Fire for Abortion Deal, Stupak to Retire
By MONICA DAVEY
Published: April 9, 2010
ESCANABA, Mich. — Representative Bart Stupak, a Democrat and a leading abortion opponent in Congress who ended up infuriating anti-abortion groups with his support of a compromise in the last hours of debate over landmark health care legislation, said Friday that he would not seek a 10th term in November.
Mr. Stupak has represented a giant district spanning the frozen top of Michigan since 1993, and had been expected to win re-election easily despite the controversy around his role in the health care law.
But even before Mr. Stupak officially announced his decision, a chorus of opponents rushed to take credit for helping to push him out of the midterm campaign, and to portray his departure as an opening blow in what they contend will be more political fallout for those who supported the health care law.
In a frigid lakeside park here in Mr. Stupak’s district, a leader of the Tea Party Express, which has been broadcasting anti-Stupak television ads here this week, called out to a crowd, some carrying “Flush Bart” signs, “Let that be a warning to the rest of the rats on the U.S.S. Marx!”
The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that has been broadcasting radio commercials against Mr. Stupak, both said they had helped force his move.
But in a news conference here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Mr. Stupak, 58, disputed them all. He said a number of factors led to his decision to retire, a possibility he said he had been weighing for several years. Among the reasons, he said, was that he had completed a promise he made when he first ran almost two decades ago to reform the health care system.
“I’m proud to have helped bring it across the finish line,” he said. Well aware of his opponents’ crowing, Mr. Stupak discounted any notion that he had been driven away.
Until Friday, an array of little-known challengers — a Democrat and several Republicans — were lined up against Mr. Stupak. But his departure creates a good chance for Republicans to pick up his seat.
“All bets are off now,” said Bill Ballenger, a political analyst in Michigan. “This turns into a national political battle.”
By Friday afternoon, party leaders on both sides were already weighing new names — among them more widely known possibilities, including a state senator and a former candidate for the seat. Candidates have until May 11 to submit petitions to run in an Aug. 3 primary.
“Obviously we would have preferred that he run,” David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, said in an interview on Friday. “But there are large numbers of incumbents retiring on both sides, and my understanding is that he’s been planning this for some time.”
Senior Democratic officials said there were signs that Mr. Stupak, even as he negotiated the health care compromise, was considering not running for re-election. He had not raised much money and had done little campaigning.
Though Mr. Stupak’s loudest critics, by Friday, were Republicans, Tea Party supporters and abortion opponents, he had, over many chapters of a battering health care fight, angered a broad array of groups, even some who had been political allies. To hear some tell it, he had managed, by the end of his evolution on health care, to make everyone mad at some point or another.
Last fall, Mr. Stupak successfully pressed for an amendment to a House version of the health care bill adding tight restrictions on abortion coverage. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, seen as a champion of abortion rights, went along, stunning some abortion rights groups and stirring their anger against Mr. Stupak. (National abortion rights advocates lined up behind the sole Democratic candidate, an abortion rights supporter herself who had announced well before Friday that she would challenge Mr. Stupak.)
Even when the Senate seemed to resolve the abortion issue in its health care bill, Mr. Stupak said the language was insufficient, irritating his colleagues. As the debate unfolded, he sided with Roman Catholic bishops who opposed the Senate language, rather than with nuns, who supported it. He said he did not listen to the nuns when it came to writing legislative language related to abortion.