Politics & Government

Anti-abortion group tries to rescue a ... Democrat (!)

The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List is making a major, last-minute push to help Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in his hotly contested Illinois primary, a race that has drawn national attention as the last remaining “pro-life” Democrat fights for his political survival.

SBA List has dispatched 70 canvassers to the Illinois 3rd Congressional District and made a “six-figure investment” in digital ads and a mail campaign ahead of the Tuesday primary, according to an official with the group. Lipinski faces a fierce challenge from Marie Newman, a progressive advocate who has made the incumbent’s opposition to abortion rights central to her campaign.

But to anti-abortion activists, Lipinski is a champion — and one of the few Democrats left they consider an ally. It’s why they’re making a big push to help him now, hopeful they can stave off a defeat they would consider harmful to their movement.

“He is a hero to the pro-life movement,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, in an interview.

SBA List plans to target 17,000 pro-life Democratic households in the district, with canvassers planning to visit each house twice. The group has also helped the incumbent Democrat raise $40,000 this cycle, an SBA List official said, and $80,000 since 2012.

In one of the group’s digital ads, it says Newman “supports painful late-term abortions of healthy babies – paid for by taxpayers!”

The conservative organization’s support puts it opposite a coalition of liberal groups, including the abortion-rights supporting NARAL Pro-Choice America, which rallied to Newman’s candidacy and helped support her financially and run TV ads on her behalf. Many of these progressive groups have argued that lawmakers who oppose abortion rights don’t have a place in the Democratic Party and have sought to unseat Lipinski as a warning.

Other Democrats appear to be listening, with few — if any — new House candidates who oppose abortion rights.

“They are draining the party dry of any pro-life sentiment,” Dannenfelser said. “There’s no tolerance for even pro-choice candidates who think late-term abortion is a bridge too far. No toleration for pro-choicers who think being pro-choice is consistent with being against late-term abortion.”

Dannenfelser said she is convinced that total support of abortion rights will in the long run harm the Democratic Party politically. And in the short term, she thinks the handful of Democratic senators up for re-election in deep red states, like Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota or Claire McCaskill in Missouri, will pay a steep price for the party’s leftward turn.

But she’s also worried what the disappearance of the pro-life movement within the Democratic Party means for legislation on Capitol Hill.

“It may become a great political asset for the GOP,” she said. “But in the long run, we will of course need Democratic votes for real change.”

SBA List’s late involvement in the race is likely to inflame some of Lipinski’s liberal opponents, who will see it as proof that he’s allied with enemies of the progressive cause. But Democrats working against Lipinski say their opposition to his candidacy is rooted in much more than abortion, pointing out his votes against the Affordable Care Act and LGBTQ rights.

Alex Roarty: 202-383-6173, @Alex_Roarty