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Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, who was the central figure in the abortion debate surrounding the health care law, will retire from Congress at the end of this term.
Stupak, who’s been in Congress for 18 years, will make the announcement at a 12:30 p.m. ET press conference in Marquette, Mich.
Stupak told The Associated Press that attacks on him for his role in the abortion debate did not influence his decision and he could win re-election if he tried.
In the final analysis, the left accused Stupak of attempting to make abortion access more difficult while the right said he caved at the last minute by agreeing to weaker Senate provisions.
As much as Stupak claimed he was a good candidate for re-election, he may be among the first casualties of the law, which has not gained traction among Americans who roundly disapproved of it throughout debate, in part because of its massive price tag.
The Tea Party Express, a group who opposed the federal spending, has been calling for Stupak’s defeat at rallies in his sprawling northern Michigan district this week. Republican doctor Dan Benishek also announced he would challenge Stupak in the election.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who had a central role in the health reform fight as the leader of anti-abortion Democrats, plans to announce Friday that he will not run for reelection, a Democratic official said. Without Stupak on the ballot, the seat becomes an immediate pickup opportunity for Republicans.
“Now with health care done, he’s retiring,” a friend said. “He has thought about retiring for the last three cycles, but was always talked into staying: to elect John Kerry to help end the war, to elect a Democratic majority to get health care done.”
President Barack Obama called Stupak on Wednesday and asked him not to retire. Stupak, 58, also resisted entreaties from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the dean of the Wolverine State delegation.
Republicans believe that other pro-life Democrats, like freshman Reps. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), will also face serious trouble because of their support for the health care legislation without strict anti-abortion provisions.
Stupak plans to continue to live in the district, the Democratic official said. He plans to say that as he opens a new chapter, he will continue to serve the people of the First District, just not as their congressman.
Friends said Stupak was not leaving because of the health fight but because of the exertion that would be required to hold his sprawling Upper Peninsula District. He made the final decision during a conversation with his family while in Indianapolis to root for Michigan State in the Final Four basketball game.
The Upper Peninsula seat gave President Obama just 50 percent of the vote, and supported former President Bush in 2004 with 53 percent. But Stupak never had faced difficulty winning re-election, always prevailing with at least 57 percent of the vote since first elected in 1992.
And Republicans have rallied around surgeon Dan Benishek, a Tea Party favorite, who received very little attention until Stupak voted for the health care legislation even without receiving anti-abortion language in the bill itself. Benishek is expected to raise over $100,000 this quarter, according to GOP sources, a large amount for a first-time candidate who had virtually no campaign infrastructure before Stupak received national attention over his health care positioning.
Democrats who could hold the seat include state senator Jim Barcia (a former congressman), Mike Prusi and Gary McDowell, and state representatives Joel Sheltrown and Jeff Mayes.
The filing deadline to enter the race for this House seat is May 11.
Ed Morrissey predicts:
The Upper Peninsula district that Stupak represents normally wouldn’t be entirely hostile to a Democrat. They tend to be working-class, pro-life but not necessarily deeply conservative. Stupak offered them a kind of middle-road populism with a pro-life core that suited his constituents.
After Stupak’s reversal, Democrats won’t get that chance. His populist-lite patter merely enabled the radicals in the Democratic Party to seize control of Congress, and Stupak in the end refused to stand against it. In this district, expect to see a referendum on Nancy Pelosi, and don’t expect the constituents to get enthusiastic about sending another Democrat to Washington to enable her and her radical agenda.
Stay tuned …