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Democrats Tap Anti-Abortion, Pro-Gun Candidates
Bloomberg
January 4, 2006

Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Brad Ellsworth likes to hunt, opposes abortion and says he'll put his "family values up against anybody." He may be the Democrats' new dream candidate.

The 47-year-old Ellsworth, a county sheriff in Indiana, is one of a number of Democrats running for the U.S. Congress next year whose positions on social issues deviate from the national party's. His candidacy follows a presidential election the Democrats lost in part because they failed to win over "values voters," according to polls and party strategists.

The recruitment of Ellsworth and candidates with similar views is "the party making a decision to be more inclusive," said Elaine Kamarck, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and to Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. "It is the lesson of 2004."

Republicans have long put Democrats on the defensive on cultural issues such as abortion, guns and gay marriage, particularly in districts and states where voters rank protecting values and the right to bear arms among their top concerns.

The Democrats' recruitment efforts represent a change in strategy that may make it more difficult for Republicans to win elections on social issues, said Jennifer Duffy, a congressional analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.

A Litmus Test

"There are some in the national Democratic leadership who think perhaps choice has become too much of a litmus test in the party, and it hurts them," Duffy said.

Other Democratic recruits for Congress who sound more like traditional Republicans on social issues include former Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg, who is anti-abortion, and former college and professional football player Heath Shuler, an avid hunter from North Carolina who opposes abortion and gun controls.

In Pennsylvania, U.S. Senate candidate and state Treasurer Bob Casey, who opposes abortion rights, led abortion foe Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican, by 12 percentage points in a Quinnipiac poll of 1,447 voters last month. In Montana, Monica Lindeen, a pro-gun state representative, is challenging incumbent Republican Denny Rehberg for the state's only seat in the House of Representatives.

And Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a gun supporter who appeared on the cover of the National Rifle Association magazine last year, is a prospective Democratic presidential candidate in the 2008 election.

An Unsuccessful Effort

Democrats also tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit anti- abortion U.S. Representative Jim Langevin to challenge incumbent Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee in his re-election bid next year.

"This is a much larger field than it's been in the past." Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said of the anti-abortion and pro-gun candidates. "We have folks in that group who aren't necessarily with the national party on every single issue but do reflect the makeup of the congressional district."

Most of the Democrats' "values" candidates are running in Republican districts. Indiana's 8th District is a prime example: The state has voted for Republicans for president in every election since 1964 and the Republican incumbent representing the district, John Hostettler, is in his sixth term.

Hostettler, 44, has never won with more than 53 percent of the vote since his first re-election bid in 1996, fueling Democratic hopes.

Economic Populists

Many voters in the district who are concerned about abortion or limitations on gun rights are also economic populists worried about the loss of manufacturing jobs, pensions, and access to good health care, Ellsworth said.

"If you're a pro-life voter and you get past that, that we're both pro-life, then they'll have to compare us on other things," Ellsworth said of his competitor. "That's where I think I will win."

Ellsworth, who began his law-enforcement career in 1982 working for the county jail, is pledging to root out corruption in Congress, help small-business owners cut through red tape and protect jobs and improve health-care access in his state.

"Hostettler has shown through his getting re-elected that he's more than a one-issue candidate," said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington.

Gun Lobby

The gun lobby may be taking notice of Democrats like Ellsworth. The percentage of money donated by the National Rifle Association to Democratic House and Senate candidates has increased to 17 percent of funds given so far in the 2006 cycle from 12 percent of the $1.2 million contributed in the 2002 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

Recruiting anti-abortion and pro-gun candidates is part of a broader Democratic effort to recast the party's image on social issues. Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, said she used to have a hard time getting the Democratic National Committee to return phone calls.

Then in April, the group was allowed to use the committee's headquarters to unveil a plan to reduce the U.S. abortion rate. "It's a big step," Day said.

In another sign of Democrats trying to broaden their appeal on the issue, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, the prospective 2008 Democratic presidential candidate who leads in polls, said in a speech to family-planning providers last January that both sides of the debate should work to reduce abortions by focusing on unwanted pregnancies.

`On the Offensive'

"It's Democrats being more on the offensive rather than the defensive when it comes to values issues," said Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council.

Former President Clinton held that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare," an appeal to voters uncomfortable with abortion that didn't compromise his support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established a woman's right to abortion.

Democrats have strayed from that formula and it has hurt them, Wittmann said. In the 2004 presidential election, more voters -- 22 percent -- said "moral values" were the most important issue than said the economy and terrorism, according to CNN exit polls.

Of those who chose values as the top issue, 80 percent voted for Bush and 18 percent for his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

Describing Democrats

The problem was further documented in an August memo by Democracy Corps, a Democratic research organization. Focus groups found that most voters considered Democrats to be "liberal" on issues of morality, according to the memo. Some voters even used the words "immoral" or "morally bankrupt" to describe Democrats.

Particularly among non-college voters, "cultural issues not only superseded other priorities" such as Iraq and the economy, "they served as a proxy for many voters" on those issues, the memo said.

"It's almost as if Democrats forgot how to be successful on these issues and are trying to relearn some of the approaches Bill Clinton took in 1992 that were so successful," Wittmann said.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Heidi Przybyla in Boston at  hprzybyla@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: January 5, 2006 00:05 EST

Commentary:
This entire article is absurd but worth posting to show how utterly insane the media has become. The reality seems simple. Republicans claim they're fiscal conservatives and then they blow a hole in the budget the size of the grand canyon. How conservative and how moral is that? When did lying become a moral family value? When did spending money we don't have become fiscally conservative?

Democrats have been utterly incompetent in explaining why government has no business running our lives. Inherent within conservatism is their insatiable need to tell people what they can and can't do. Gays can't get married, women can't get an abortion, Jews must follow Christ etc.

Don't forget these indisputable facts. The family values party gave us the largest congressional scandal in a generation. The family values party president gave us war for no reason, WMD lies, POW abuses, torture, violations of the Geneva Conventions and much more. If there's a single person who identifies himself as Christian or conservative and still votes for a republican, I want to talk to that person.

For the record, since the Democrat Leadership Council took control of the democrat party they lost EVERY election dating back to 1994. Why is anyone still listening to these losers?