Are Dems Ready to Elect Pro-Life Party Chairman?

By Kathleen Rhodes | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

( - Having lost the last two presidential contests as well as important congressional seats in 2002, Democrats may be ready to seek a new national party leader with more appeal to the political center, a chairman with a decidedly pro-life voting record.

But the decision by former U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana to enter the race to succeed Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe could motivate one of the most pro-abortion candidates in the DNC's history - former NARAL Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman -- to join the race.

Roemer, who is Catholic and whose voting record in the House earned him a 94 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, confirmed Sunday that he's been encouraged by some leading Democrats to seek the position and will in fact do so.

In December, Roemer told the South Bend Tribune in his home state that the current Democratic Party is "overwhelmingly pro-choice," and "as someone who holds a different view, [I believe] that there must be a place in our party for those who have alternative views."

However, Roemer's candidacy has sparked a call from abortion rights organizations for one of their own to mount a run for DNC chairman. Michelman's remarks to the Associated Press on Sunday did little to dampen the speculation.

"The election of such a staunchly anti-choice leader would signal that the Democratic Party is retreating from one of its core principles," Michelman said, even though she did not indicate whether she had made up her mind to seek the post.

Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a leading pro-abortion group, issued similar comments critical of a Roemer candidacy in a Dec.17 open statement to the DNC.

"The Democratic Party and its leadership should champion pro-choice values, and uphold the ... commitment to women's rights and health," Feldt stated, adding that she was disappointed by Roemer's anti-abortion stance.

Roemer's pro-abortion critics fear that he may be jeopardizing the future of the Democratic Party by neglecting its platform. The 2004 Democratic National Platform for America states that the party stands "proudly for a woman's right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade," and adds that "abortion should be safe, legal, and rare."

Pro-abortion forces on Jan. 22 will mark the 31st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

In her statement to the DNC, Feldt accused Roemer of "rejecting his party's platform and core belief that women should have access to the reproductive health care they need."

Current NARAL Pro-choice America President Nancy Keenan told the Boston Globe last month that she did not think it was "smart to have the Democrats change their position America agrees with." Instead of "abandon[ing] a position on choice," Keenan recommended that Democrats "do a better job defining choice as the mainstream value that it is."

Roemer insists he is not attempting to change the Democratic platform to accommodate his pro-life views, only that he is entering the race for chairmanship to broaden the base of the party to include more of the mainstream.

On ABC's "This Week," Roemer said he respects the fact that the Democratic platform favors abortion rights. "We have a majority of our party, an overwhelming majority of our party, that is pro-choice, and I respect that. But I think we should ... be more inclusive on this issue, especially in the Midwest and South if a candidate has those (pro-life) views," he said.

The Democratic Party needs to reverse an important voting trend, he added, whereby "97 of the 100 fastest growing counties in the United States," voted Republican in the last national election and only four Democratic senators remain in the Deep South, Roemer said.

"I'm not going to let people steer this party left, nor would I steer it right," Roemer was quoted in National Journal's Hotline Monday. "We need more Democrats on the bus, more connection to values of the American people that our party holds dear. And we need to express those values better."

CNN's exit polling on Nov. 2 indicated that 22 percent of voters considered "moral values" the most important issue of the election. Out of that group, President Bush won 80 percent and Democratic challenger John Kerry won only 18 percent.

The group, Democrats for Life of America, agrees that the party needs to broaden its reach on the abortion issue. "[W]e really need to rethink our position," Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life of America, stated in a report.

"I think the leadership knows that if we're going to be a majority party again, that we need to really respect the views of those in our party who don't necessarily agree with supporting abortion on demand," she added.

According to a Dec. 24 report in the Catholic Exchange, Roemer also has the backing of U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.), an outspoken defender of abortion rights and newly appointed U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), whose own National Right to Life Committee voting record score is 55 percent, higher than most of his colleagues.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, considered the current front-runner for the DNC chairmanship, has also made a pitch for more openness toward pro-life Democrats, though Dean personally favors abortion rights.

"I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats. The Democrats that have stuck with us, who are pro-life, through their long period of conviction, are people who are the kind of pro-life people that we ought to have deep respect for," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Democratic National Committee members will elect their new chairman in February. Other possible contenders include ex-U.S. Rep. Martin Frost from Texas, former Michigan governor Jim Blanchard, former Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Leland, former Texas Democratic chairman Molly Beth Malcolm, former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, and Democratic activists Simon Rosenberg and Donnie Fowler.

Spokesmen for the Democratic National Committee and NARAL Pro-Choice America would not comment about the importance of the abortion issue on the election of a new party chairman or whether Kate Michelman might be a candidate.

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