Seven House Republicans stood alone in the fight to protect federal funding for Planned Parenthood. And now each of them faces attacks from the left and right, forced to walk a political tightrope because the new House GOP majority has, intentionally or not, diluted a message of fiscal responsibility with a debate over social issues.
The leader of a prominent anti-
abortion interest group this week threatened to push primary challengers on the seven social moderates, most of whom represent purple districts.
“Without question, there will be consequences,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, told Roll Call when asked about the seven Republicans. “It’s not just our group, but others are very focused on those folks, and our allies have proven a willingness to get involved in primaries when it matters.”
Abortion fights resonate nationally and help gin up both grass-roots interest in elections and fundraising pushes. But most of these Republicans could be in bigger trouble back home if they move too far to the right. Many represent socially moderate swing districts that moved to the Republican column in 2010 when the focus was on the economy and federal spending.
It remains to be seen how voters might react in 2012 if the message is clouded by a fight over abortion.
There were two freshmen among the seven Republican dissidents: Reps. Robert Dold (Ill.) and Richard Hanna (N.Y.). The others were Reps. Judy Biggert (Ill.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Charlie Dent (Pa.) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (N.J.). In his own category is Rep. Charles Bass (N.H.), who returned to Congress this year after a four-year hiatus.
Bass has long been considered a moderate. But his vote on the Planned Parenthood measure, named for its prime sponsor, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), caught the attention of New Hampshire’s most powerful socially conservative organization.
“We were disappointed when he was one of the seven Republicans to vote against the Pence amendment,” New Hampshire Cornerstone Executive Director Kevin Smith said.
“Is that one vote enough to get him primaried? Probably not. But if there are more of those votes, it’s something to watch.”
Interest groups on the left and right are pushing to make sure the Planned Parenthood vote is not forgotten, even though the provision is unlikely to pass the Senate or be signed by President Barack Obama.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week ran automated phone calls, Web ads and e-mails attacking five freshman lawmakers who voted against the Pence amendment and “to restrict women’s access to legal and lifesaving health care services while preserving taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil companies making record profits.”
Dold was among those attacked — even though he opposed the amendment — because he supported the final spending measure that included blocking the funding.
SBA List this week announced plans to spend $200,000 on radio and television ads to supplement a 14-stop “grass-roots tour” of key Congressional districts to fuel the Planned Parenthood debate.