The AP’s Kristen Wyatt has a great story up today on this year’s widely-anticipated battles in the Colorado legislature over–wait for it–abortion politics. After Cory Gardner successfully gummed this issue to death in 2014, it’s an issue that many Democrats are fatigued at the prospect of having to argue yet again.
Unfortunately, Republicans are fresh off a year of strident agitation on the issue, powered by the release of heavily edited undercover videos that falsely allege the organization “sold” fetal tissue samples used in medical research. The gap between perception and reality on this issue between the pro- and anti-choice factions has probably never been wider than it is today, and the rhetoric from anti-abortion activists in recent months is a major factor in incidents of violence like the domestic terror attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last November.
Conflict-weary Democrats, there will be no relief in 2016:
In the U.S. Senate race, Tim Neville, a Republican state senator from Littleton, kicked off his campaign against Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet by talking about abortion politics.
“When an organization like Planned Parenthood ignores the law, kills the unborn, sells their body parts for profit and we have both parties that can’t even come together to end this tragedy, we have an issue with leadership,” Neville told supporters, referencing videos taken by anti-abortion activists they said showed Planned Parenthood personnel negotiating the sale of fetal organs…
The state’s senior senator won his last contest in large part because of reproductive rights. Bennet faced a conservative Tea Party favorite in 2010, one who appeared to be winning in polls until Democrats pounded him for supporting ballot measures to ban abortion by defining fertilized embryos as people, a concept described as “personhood.”
Bennet’s victory ensured that Democrats for the next five years would try tying Republicans to the “personhood” movement. The focus on reproductive rights grew so intense that during the 2014 Senate campaign, reporters and Republicans derisively dubbed former Sen. Mark Udall “Mark Uterus.” Udall was defeated for a second term by Republican Cory Gardner, who once supported a “personhood” measure but convincingly told the public he’d changed his mind.
The Udall defeat was seen by many as the last time Colorado Democrats would focus so heavily on reproductive rights. But events have dictated otherwise. [Pols emphasis]
As we have written about at length in this space, the 2014 defeat of incumbent Sen. Mark Udall by Republican Cory Gardner left local Democrats extremely wary of using the choice issue as an electoral wedge. The rationale for this tends to boil down to criticism of Udall’s dour and negative message, which focused heavily on Gardner’s dishonesty on abortion without articulating his own positive case for re-election.
But that ignores something very important: Gardner’s successful and very forceful case that Republicans were “no threat to abortion rights.” Gardner’s after-the-fact disavowal of the “Personhood” abortion bans he had previously supported was used as cover for his continuing support for functionally equivalent abortion bans at the federal level. Longtime abortion opponent Rep. Mike Coffman used Planned Parenthood’s logo in an ad. Aware of the danger, the entire Republican media establishment from national pundits to local surrogates backed Gardner’s new image against all common sense–and became unlikely promoters of their party’s supposed “inability” to curtail abortion rights.
In only a year, this fiction has been completely undone by events. As it turned out, national anti-choice activists had no intention of slowing their campaign to ban abortion, and used the undercover videos attacking Planned Parenthood to ramp the anger on the religious right back up to a fever pitch. Sen. Cory Gardner’s inevitable votes against abortion within weeks of taking office could’t be spun. In 2016 just like last year, Republicans in the Colorado legislature have a long list of anti-abortion bills planned, starting with a bill to make abortion a felony “beginning at conception.”
For years, the Colorado GOP’s obsession with restricting abortion rights was a major political problem, with the cost measurable in punishing electoral defeats in 2008, 2010, and 2012. Gardner’s deceptive victory in 2014 might have changed the game in the long term, leaving Democrats unwilling to confront Republicans for fear of being pigeonholed in reverse by denial and feigned exasperation.
But today, 2014 looks like the exception–and Gardner has lulled the GOP into a very dangerous false security.