Stupak Out, GOP Likely to Pick Up Seat

One day after rumors swirled from Michigan to Washington that Rep. Bart Stupak (D.-Mich) would call it quits, the 18-year lawmaker who was a pivotal Democratic player in passage of the healthcare legislation did just that.

At noon today, Stupak—a former state trooper long considered a moderate because of his pro-life stand— announced he will not seek re-election in 2010.

Under fire from the Tea Party movement in his Michigan district and a national target of Republicans after years of coasting to re-election, the 58-year-old Stupak sets the stage for a Republican gain in the House by becoming the 17th House Democrat to step down in 2010.

Without interruption, the district has been in Republican hands from 1966 until Stupak’s election in 1992. Republicans have been making strong gains in races for local and legislative offices and the Republican nominee in the August primary will be the favorite in the fall. (The filing deadline for the primary is May 11th). 

Three relatively unknown Republicans in Michigan’s 1st District had become the subject of national interest and support after Stupak voted for Obamacare on March 21. Now other, better-known Republicans are likely to enter the race, with the name of conservative former State Rep. Michelle McManus (who drew 40% of the vote against Stupak in 1998 and later served in the administration of Republican Gov. John Engler) drawing sudden mention.

“There are a lot of great Democratic officials and activists throughout the entire district,” State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer insisted to reporters shortly after news of Stupak’s decision spread, “I’m confident we will have a very strong candidate.” 

Among those mentioned for the Democratic nod are State Sen. (and former U.S. Rep.) James Barcia, who like Stupak takes the pro-life line, and former Charlevoix County Commissioner Connie Saltonstall, who is pro-abortion and had been running in the primary against Stupak. 

The immediate comments on Stupak’s exodus was that his unusual role in the healthcare debate brought him down. Having co-authored a measure in the initial healthcare bill last year banning any funding for abortions, Stupak insisted he would not vote for any package in the final vote that failed to include similar legislation. He claimed to speak for 12 other pro-life Democrats, who were known as the “Stupak Dozen.”

But, Stupak caved on the March 21 vote and claimed that President Obama’s executive order had the same effect as legislation banning tax dollars for abortion.

Despite insistence from many legal experts as well as the U.S. bishops of his own Roman Catholic Church that the executive order did not have the force of law, Stupak voted for the measure. The votes of other pro-life Democrats such as Indiana’s Rep. Brad Ellsworth helped secure passage of the measure by a vote of 217-to-212.