He hasn’t won less than 66 percent of the vote since 2000. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball hasn’t yet written anything about Stupak’s reelection bid in Michigan’s 1st congressional district, and Cook Political Report still ranks the race “Solid Democrat.” Yes, Stupak’s district ranks as the 208th most Republican House seat out of 435, and was seen as a Republican-leaning one that Obama narrowly carried in 2008. But Stupak seemed a perfect match for this sprawling, largely rural district. Michael Barone’s Almanac of American Politics describes it as follows: “Starting in the 1840s, immigrants flocked here to work in the mines: Irish, Italians, Swedes, Norwegians, miners’ sons from Wales and Cornwall, and most prominently Finns, who must have found this cold land with its lakes and hills much like home. Many were Roman Catholic, and they remain predominantly anti-abortion.” It is, geographically, the second-largest district east of the Mississippi, and Marquette, with 21,000 people, is the largest city in the district. A congressman like Stupak — an economically liberal pro-life Catholic, a former police officer injured in the line of duty — would, ordinarily, serve until retirement.
But all of that conventional wisdom changes, now that the dramatic end to the fight over the health-care bill transformed one of the most prominent pro-life Democrats into a man without a country — disdained by national Democrats and pro-choice liberals as a man who nearly derailed health care, and rejected by pro-lifers on both sides of the aisle as a supremely disappointing leader who quit at the last minute.
The flip on the health care vote while surprising to those outside the political arena was apparently expected by some insiders.
Stupak said his constituency was split about evenly, in support of and opposition to the health-care overhaul. Many considered his vote the most surprising one for Obamacare. But a GOP consultant in Washington who works with Michigan Republicans says that there were some signals: “There was an expectation that he was going to flip. More than two weeks before the vote, what few Republicans were in the Michigan caucus and the broader GOP pro-life and conservative caucuses were focused on keeping him close and doing what they could to buttress support for him. Maybe people I talk to were being pessimistic, or just realistic, but they had a sense this thing was done on Friday afternoon, and that it was only a matter of when that they would lose Stupak.”
The result is lots of obstacles after years of easy re-election for Bart.
At least four Republicans seek to replace Stupak. A great deal of buzz has suddenly surrounded Dan Benishek, a general surgeon whose campaign debuted as a Free Republic post in February. He’ll face pro bono attorney Linda Goldthorpe, former trucking-company executive Don Hooper, and Cheboygan County drain commissioner Dennis Lennox. Lennox is a veteran conservative activist, and his campaign touts the fact that he was only one of two Republican challengers in all of Michigan to defeat an incumbent Democrat at the county-wide or higher levels in 2008, a thoroughly miserable year for the GOP in this state.
The consenus, considering Bart also faces a primary opponent in Connie Saltenstall, is that this is the end of the road as the Congressman from MI-01.
“Tough district, but not many people want a sellout for a congressman,” concludes this Washington Republican. “He voted with Pelosi and against his district and he is going to have to defend that vote.”
“Stupak is now really in a tough spot,” says Fred Wszolek, a veteran GOP consultant who just signed on with Benishek. “He’s in a strongly conservative, pro-life district and his only real connection was on cultural issues. But he infuriated the Left on the way to infuriating the Right. It’s hard to see who his base now is. Where he ended up on this issue was a big problem for him, but the way he got there was just incomprehensible. . . . I think Stupak is really toast this time.”
So in the end the question for Bart Stupak is “was it worth it doing what you did Sunday?”
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