Who Gets the Credit for Taking Out Bart Stupak?

While the Tea Party right has applauded itself for driving Bart Stupak out of office for his role in passing health care reform, pro-choice advocates are claiming that it was pressure from the left that ultimately did him in. Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said she was “thrilled” to hear of the Michigan Democrat’s decision to retire and credited the pro-choice campaign to support his primary challenger for pushing him out. “Connie Saltonstall is a wonderful candidate, and we moved very, very quickly to reach out to her,” said O’Neill. “NOW can take at least some credit for his stepping down…we really put her on a fast track.”

NOW, along with Planned Parenthood and NARAL, endorsed Saltonstall during the final days of the health care debate, accusing Stupak of holding the reform effort hostage to his anti-choice views. Though Stupak ultimately decided to support the bill after making a deal with top Democrats, he has been slammed by pro-choice advocates for having “needlessly jeopardized the historic health care reform law” in his fight to eliminate abortion coverage, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement, adding that the group would be “working hard” to back Saltonstall.

O’Neill said she “fully expected the Democratic leadership” to support Saltonstall for the seat, dismissing skepticism that she may be too liberal for a district that went for Obama by just two points. It’s not clear whether Democrats will want to take a chance with such an avowedly progressive candidate. But the seat will remain a national target as Republicans and Tea Party activists eye an opportunity for a takeover. And other liberal groups are looking ready to jump in. “We’re talking to [Saltonstall] and keeping a close watch on this race,” said Matt Burgess, press secretary for group EMILY’s List.

Meanwhile, Tea Party leaders have insisted that Stupak’s departure “shows the power of the tea party movement,” according to Tea Party Express political director Brian Shroyer, citing the recent anti-Stupak blitz the group has spearheaded and comparing his depature to Scott Brown’s defeat of Martha Coakley in Massachusetts. 

Despite the efforts by activists of all stripes to claim bragging rights for Stupak’s retirement, no single campaign drove him out. His high-wire deal-making on abortion turned him into an inevitable target for both right- and left-wing critics, ensuring that if he ran for re-election, he’d be besiged on all sides. As Monica Potts points out, it was a fate that Stupak brought upon himself by stirring up needless controversy in the first place.