- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2018

Conor Lamb has been declared the winner in Pennsylvania’s special congressional election, showing Democrats a path to victory in blue-collar Trump country by defusing the issue of abortion by muddying the waters on his stance.

But it’s not yet clear whether the party’s leaders are willing to listen.

Democrats have increasingly tilted toward pro-choice politics, with some of the party’s most energetic activists vowing to weed out the remaining pro-lifers through primary challenges.

They almost nabbed victory this week when they pushed Rep. Dan Lipinski, a pro-life Democrat from the Chicago suburbs, to the brink of a loss.

Mr. Lipinski scraped out a victory against Marie Newman, a political newcomer who was backed by NARAL Pro-Choice America, Moveon.org, Emily’s List, the Human Rights Campaign and other liberal organizations.

Lipinski slipped through this time, but with the target he’s got on his back now, his days in Congress are numbered,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America, a progressive group.

He said Mr. Lipinski’s close call “makes it pretty clear that days of Democratic dithering on women’s bodily autonomy are essentially over.”

Mr. Lipinski is unabashedly pro-life.

Mr. Lamb, though, straddles the issue, saying he is personally pro-life but vowing not to let that affect his support for abortion rights as a member of Congress.

Unlike Mr. Lipinski though, he didn’t have to win a party primary that could have forced him to move to the left on abortion. That left him free, in the general election, to portray himself as a conservative Democrat, and steer clear of attacking President Trump.

“If somebody in his district was a pro-life voter and that was their No. 1 issue, then they are not voting for Conor Lamb,” said Christopher Borick, political science professor and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “However, if that is an important issue, but not the No. 1 issue for you and you are weighing a number of the candidate’s attributes, his personal stance might in some ways give you a little bit of extra wiggle room to offer your support.”

The strategy — bolstered by news reports labeling Mr. Lamb as pro-life — could have helped him in a race where the margin of victory was just north of 800 votes.

Rick Saccone, the Republican nominee, conceded the race Wednesday, eight days after the vote.

‘With Conor Lamb there was a lot of confusion on where he stood on the life issue and I think that contributed to the outcome of the race,” said Maria Vitale Gallagher, legislative director of Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, which backed Mr. Saccone. “I think there were people who thought he was pro-life, but he was not pro-life. He said he would oppose a late-term abortion ban.”

Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, said the lesson to be learned from the race is that Republicans need to be more focused on exposing Democrats like Mr. Lamb who try to confuse voters on the issue.

“If you throw up a smokescreen and no one attempts to go through it that I think it can deflect the issue somewhat,” he said. “Conor Lamb was an extremist, an absolutist, on abortion and that point was not driven home.”

Democratic infighting over abortion has become more intense in recent years, with pro-choice forces feeling momentum.

Those forces blasted Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Keith Ellison, deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, last year after the two men backed a candidate in an Omaha, Nebraska, mayoral race who had supported pro-life legislation eight years before.

DNC Chair Tom Perez responded by declaring a pro-choice litmus test for candidates running with the national party’s support, saying it was “not negotiable.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, went in a different direction, saying the life issue is “not a litmus test for Democratic candidates” and the party must field candidates that fit the district.

But in practice, the pro-life voices in the Democratic ranks now amount to little more than a whimper.

Aside from Mr. Lipinski, the only other pro-life House Democrats running for reelection are Reps. Collin Peterson in western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District and Henry Cuellar of south Texas’s 28th District.

Mr. Peterson, Mr. Lipinski and Mr. Cuellar were the only House Democrats to support a 20-week abortion ban last year.

Mr. Cuellar has a 37 percent rating on the National Right to Life’s latest scorecard, compared to 75 percent for Mr. Lipinski and Mr. Peterson. Mrs. Pelosi, by contrast, scores a zero.

Democrats for Life of America, which bills itself as the party’s pro-life contingent, is hoping for reinforcements. It’s endorsed long-shot bids of Democrats in House races in Arkansas and South Dakota.

The group said the efforts to derail Mr. Lipinski, who eked out a 2 percentage point win, were “wrongheaded.”

“The race was not about Dan’s record on traditional Democratic values,” said Kristen Day, the group’s executive director. “It was, plain and simple, about abortion and an effort to purify the Democratic Party of pro-life voices.”

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