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Democrats Contemplate Changes To Abortion Stance


Democrats know they need some big wins to control Congress next year. They often disagree on how to do it. This week, a top Democrat drew criticism from progressive groups when he said that Democrats should not exclude candidates who oppose abortion. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, who's chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, the party should stop withholding funds from candidates who don't always support abortion rights. We're joined now by Democratic pollster Margie Omero. Thanks very much for being with us.

MARGIE OMERO: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And Chairman Lujan's argument, of course, is that Democrats have to compete in some conservative swing districts if they want to win the House. And running candidates who share the opposition of many Americans in those districts to abortion might help them win seats they need to win. Does the polling bear that out?

OMERO: Well, I think what the chairman said is not a departure from where Democrats have been in past campaigns. Being a support for abortion rights continues to be a strong democratic principle. Overall, a majority of Americans feel abortion should be legal in most cases. Democrats feel more strongly about their pro-choice views than Republicans feel about their pro-life views. So I think looking at the candidates that would be the fit in...

SIMON: I mean, I've got to tell you, I was looking for a yes or no.

OMERO: (Laughter) Well it's, so - look. For sure, there are going to be a variety of candidates with a variety of positions around the country. I think that, you know, people may have, you know, we need to be looking at energizing Democrats. And Democrats are far more energized than Republicans currently. You have almost 20,000 women - pro-choice Democratic women - looking to run for office. The surge in enthusiasm is coming from the left. And it's coming from women. And it's coming from progressives. And it's coming from people who are pro-choice.

SIMON: Ms. Omero, I still I don't think I got an answer. Does the polling bear out Chairman Lujan's perception that this would be a wise way to win some of those seats in swing districts?

OMERO: Well, I think there will be some districts where the most viable candidate is going to - on the Democratic side is going to be more conservative than other districts. It's something that is, you know, there - that I think in practice, the number of districts where the most viable democratic candidate of a competitive Democratic field is one that is pro-life, as opposed to one that is pro-choice. I'm not sure how many examples that we'll have of that specific combination in practice. I think, you know - and that the single distinguishing characteristic would be abortion, as opposed to views on climate change or, you know, other kinds of ties to the district and so on.

I think that voters are going to be looking for a lot beyond abortion positions. They're going to be looking at economic views. They're going to be looking at candidates that they feel represent them and that they can connect to. And I think what the chairman was saying is, you know, we're going to be looking at everything that a candidate brings to the table, rather than looking actively for pro-life candidates. He certainly wasn't saying that.

SIMON: Pew Research Center poll from last month says 75 percent of Democrats believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Would Democratic candidates who don't share that idea on principle, on moral grounds or for political reasons, would they risk alienating the base of Democratic voters?

OMERO: It's possible. I mean, you know, these races are all different. There's not one road map for the whole country, but it is possible given how enthusiastic Democrats are currently, how much of that enthusiasm is coming from women and from how much, you know, more Democratic women are paying attention to the news - according to a lot of polls - than other groups and paying attention to politics. So it's certainly possible.

SIMON: Democratic Party changing, trying to change?

OMERO: Well, I think it's always important to, you know, have some reflection after a loss, which is what Democrats are doing. I don't think what we're seeing in the economic messages that have been coming or these conversations about abortion - I don't really see that Democrats are having a wholesale change. It's really just finding what the best tactics are and the best candidates who drive our message forward.

SIMON: Margie Omero, thanks so much for being with us.

OMERO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.