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Democrats: Stupak Move Doesn't Signal Rush for Exits

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Rep. Bart Stupak was on the hot seat as the health care debate reached its conclusion, but the Michigan lawmaker said the criticism he received “didn’t play a big part” in his decision to retire this year.

Republicans cheered the Friday retirement announcement of Rep. Bart Stupak as putting them one step closer to reclaiming the House. But Democratic strategists said they are confident the Michigan Democrat’s decision does not reflect the leading edge of a new retirement wave following passage of the controversial health care overhaul.

Democrats pointed to the unique circumstances surrounding Stupak’s decision — namely his lightning-rod role in the abortion debate that dominated the health care endgame, and the grueling demands of campaigning in and servicing his remote, sprawling district — in dismissing the suggestion that other beleaguered Democrats will follow him toward the exits. And, they said, the majority over the Easter recess largely avoided the bruising homecoming they encountered during the July Fourth break after passing a cap-and-trade climate change bill and in August on health care.

“I don’t think people have gotten beaten up as badly,” one senior Democratic aide said.

After getting caught flat-footed by a series of retirements late last year, House Democratic leaders have taken an aggressive posture this year to ensure they swing into action at the first hint of a new exit. “Every time there’s even a whiff of a rumor, three degrees of separation that someone might be thinking about it, everyone attacks them,” the aide said.

That response was evident in Stupak’s case. As he weighed his options, he fielded calls urging him to run again from President Barack Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the dean of the House and a longtime mentor.

Announcing his decision Friday in Marquette, Mich., Stupak said he had accomplished his driving career goal in passing the health care overhaul. “After 18 years together, we have accomplished what you sent me to Washington to do: health care for all Americans.”

His “Stupak amendment” limiting federal abortion funding in the bill the House passed in the fall enraged abortion-rights advocates, while his deal with the White House to vote for the final passage of the bill in exchange for an executive order upholding existing prohibitions on federal abortion funding made him a target of anti-abortion and conservative groups.

Tea party activists, in particular, claimed a victory, saying it was their pressure that pushed Stupak out of the race.

Stupak said the vitriol he has faced over his health care stand “didn’t play a big part” in his decision. But the timing of the announcement — the same week that the group Tea Party Express launched a $250,000 ad campaign against him and held a series of rallies — didn’t do much to reinforce his claim.

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