Democrats Tear Each Other Apart Over Abortion 'Litmus Test,' Hurting 2018 Chances

Former Governor Howard Dean (Democrat) makes remarks during the second session of the 2016 Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, USA - 26 Jul 2016 (Rex Features via AP Images)

On Monday, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) said the party would not adopt an abortion “litmus test” when it comes to funding candidates for 2018 House races. But a former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman attacked this strategy, and led pro-abortion groups in a campaign against being open to pro-life candidates.


“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the DCCC, told The Hill in an interview Monday. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

Howard Dean, former Democratic governor of Vermont and former chairman of the DNC (from 2005 to 2009), denounced this decision on Twitter. “I’m afraid I’ll be with holding [sic] support for the DCCC if this is true,” Dean declared.

Abortion activists championed Dean in this decision.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, retweeted Dean, declaring, “Thank you [Governor Dean]. You truly understand the stakes for women and families.”

NARAL’s official account also attacked Luján. “We can’t truly make economic security a priority w/o strong pro-choice candidates,” NARAL tweeted. “There is no [economic security] w/o [reproductive freedom].”


Even the official Twitter account for the Democratic Party retweeted DNC CEO Jess O’Connell, who declared, “Full economic rights will include reproductive rights — with safe, affordable, accessible healthcare regardless of zip code.”

The timing of this tweet (and retweet) suggests O’Connell was attacking Luján, a leader in her own party.

But the intraparty warfare is merely the latest flare-up in a Democrat civil war on the issue of abortion. In April, current DNC Chair Tom Perez endorsed Heath Mello, a Democrat running for mayor in Omaha, Neb. When NARAL attacked Mello as “anti-choice,” Perez took a clear stance for abortion.

“Every Democrat, like ever American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Perez said. “This is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”

Such a firm pro-abortion stance would alienate many Democrats who favor significant restrictions on abortion even when they identify as “pro-choice.” As such, it is an important political imperative for Democrats to moderate their stance on abortion in order to win back a majority of seats in the House of Representatives next year.


“To pick up 24 [seats] and get to 218, that is the job,” Luján told The Hill. “We’ll need a broad coalition to get that done. We are going to need all of that, we have to be a big family in order to win the House back.” The map on his office wall reportedly highlights dozens of districts held by Republicans that he hopes to flip in November 2018.

Democrats will need to contest more conservative districts in order to win those 24 seats. In 2006, when the Democrats last captured a majority in the House, their party recruited — and financially supported — a significant number of Democrats who did not fully support the abortion activist platform. The Hill listed four such candidates: Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Heath Shuler (N.C.), and Jason Altmire (Pa.).

“Both [then-DCCC Chairman] Rahm Emanuel and [then-DNC Chairman] Howard Dean with his 50 state strategy understood that in order to win districts that eluded Democrats in previous cycles, they were going to have to field candidates who didn’t look like national Democrats,” Altmire told The Hill (emphasis added). “People understood the class of ’06 was driven largely by the centrist candidates.”

Apparently, Dean forgot his own winning strategy.

Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have argued against party litmus tests, saying there is room for people with different opinions on abortion. Even the purist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who rained on the Democratic “unity tour” by declaring, “I’m an Independent!” — has echoed that argument.


Pelosi — a notable punching-bag for Republicans whose leadership arguably contributed to the defeat of Jon Ossoff in the Georgia 6 race — noted, “Most of … my family, extended family are not pro-choice. You think I’m kicking them out of the Democratic Party?”

Howard Dean seems to be arguing that she should, despite the fact that his very support for centrist candidates helped Democrats win the House in 2006.



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