Politics & Other Mistakes: Offense or defense

6 mins read
Al Diamon

Abortion could be a losing issue for both sides in Maine politics – but for very different reasons.

For Democrats, the voters who are now more ardent about supporting pro-choice candidates in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade are the ones who were already inclined to back the Dems. The issue isn’t likely to sway a lot of folks more concerned about the economy and inflation.

For Republicans, making even a passing reference to their pro-life positions isn’t going to attract any new supporters and may drive away independents who disagree with the GOP on the issue, but are otherwise more concerned with how they’re going to pay their heating bills this winter. There’s no payoff for Republican candidates in reminding voters they’re out of step with a majority of them.

Early indications are that GOP candidates are going to heed this advice, and the Dems are not. In other words, the donkey party is going to go with its gut, while Republicans will take the timid approach.

Examples of pro-life politicians’ lack of courage abound. In the gubernatorial race, former Gov. Paul LePage, the Republican nominee, claimed in an interview with the Portland Press Herald, “I don’t have time for abortion.” What LePage meant was he didn’t want to talk about abortion, calling it a “nonissue.” He refused to say whether he’d sign any anti-abortion bills that reached his desk. Then, he slid off the rails.

“The Democratic Party will kill babies all day long,” LePage claimed.

LePage had previously tried to deflect abortion-related questions by talking about domestic abuse, which astute observers might notice is a completely unrelated issue.

The reality is LePage is an ardent anti-abortion advocate and would almost certainly support all manner of measures to limit or outlaw abortions. He just doesn’t have the stones to say so.

LePage’s Democratic opponent, Gov. Janet Mills, was less bombastic and far more forthright. Mills called the court decision “a fundamental assault on women’s rights and reproductive freedom.” Mills went on to say, “I pledge to the people of Maine that, so long as I am Governor, my veto pen will stand in the way of any effort to undermine, rollback, or outright eliminate the right to safe and legal abortion in Maine.”

It’s much the same in the 2nd Congressional District contest. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden termed the ruling “wrong on principle and wrong on the merits.” Golden promised to work to pass a federal law codifying women’s right to choose.

Former GOP Congressman Bruce Poliquin, seeking to regain his old seat, said he “supported life,” then added, “The U.S. Supreme Court has returned decisions about abortion to the state government level where I agree they should remain.”

That’s a change from Poliquin’s position in 2014, when he told a pro-life group he favored a constitutional amendment outlawing most abortions. In 2015, he voted in Congress for a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks, a bill that would have overridden many state laws, including Maine’s.

Even at the legislative level, the contrast between the parties’ approaches is obvious. Republican Party executive director Jason Savage sent a memo to candidates for the state House and Senate warning against letting the opposition make abortion a focus of their campaigns. “I’d remind you that the debate has been going on for a long time and will certainly continue,” Savage wrote, “but right now, the voters we need to win are focused on the economy, record inflation, and out-of-control gas and grocery prices.”

Democratic Party chairman Drew Gattine urged his candidates to take the opposite approach. “[T]he future of abortion in Maine is on the ballot this November,” Gattine wrote, going on to say, “Governor Mills and her Democratic colleagues in the legislature are the only thing keeping abortion safe and legal in our state.”

Traditionally, abortion hasn’t been a deciding factor in many Maine elections. But traditionally, the possibility that it could be banned hasn’t been in play.

It remains to be seen whether voters prefer Democratic advocacy or Republican hesitancy.

Comments, straightforward or encrusted with verbiage, may be emailed to aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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