Democrats Wield Abortion Rights as Campaign Weapon in Primaries, Too

by Nathan L. Gonzales May 16, 2014 · 9:00 AM EDT

One party is using abortion as wedge issue in races all across the country — and it’s not the Republicans.

Abortion rights is a critical part of Democrats’ pitch to women in swing districts and states in general elections. But now some Democratic candidates from Maine to Hawaii are using choice as a key issue in primaries as well.

Last week, EMILY’s List and NARAL-Pro Choice America celebrated their coordinated attack on state Rep. Brendan Boyle in Pennsylvania’s 13th District. The week before, state Sen. Daylin Leach released a television ad against Boyle featuring a handful of women taking Boyle to task.

“Somebody doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to choose. Brendan Boyle. Brendan Boyle. He opposes a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. Really? Boyle sponsored and voted for Republican legislation to limit abortion rights for women- even got awards from pro-life groups. We need someone who’s for women’s rights. Daylin Leach. He knows women can make their own decisions, not politicians. I’m Daylin Leach and I approve this message. I will always fight for a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.”

On one hand, it’s not entirely surprising. Democratic primaries (and Republican primaries for that matter) are often full of candidates with relatively similar records looking for any points of distinction. But considering Republicans are usually the party that gets branded as being obsessed with social issues, the Democrats’ wide use of abortion lately is striking.

Elsewhere, abortion is likely to be a key issue in the Democratic primary in Maine’s 2nd District.

While state Sen. Troy Jackson is criticizing state Sen. Emily Cain for being too willing to compromise with GOP Gov. Paul R. LePage and the Republicans, Cain is going after Jackson on abortion rights and marriage equality.

According to Jackson, he will vote against any legislation to overturn Roe v. Wade or defund Planned Parenthood. But there is enough in his background for Cain to pick apart for a direct mail piece or TV ad before the June 10 primary.

Jackson earned 100 percent ratings from Maine Right to Life in 2003 and 2010, voted for a “personhood” bill in the Legislature in 2011, and responded on a 2012 questionnaire that he generally supported “pro-life legislation.”

Cain was fully recommended by EMILY’s List last fall and has been endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America. [You can read more about the primary and general elections in Maine’s 2nd District in the May 9 edition of The Rothenberg Political Report ($).]

Abortion isn’t the only social issue cropping up in Democratic primaries. Cain will also make her case that Jackson has been on the wrong side of marriage equality, compared to a majority of Democratic voters in the 2nd District.

And in Hawaii’s 1st District, Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang is running to be the most progressive candidate in the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is running for the Senate. In an interview with the Rothenberg Report, he pointed out that state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, one of the top candidates in the congressional race, voted against a bill to legalize same-sex marriage last fall. The bill passed 20-4.