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Do Democrats want pro-choice purity or to win elections?

Do Democrats want to control Congress? Or do they care more about ideological purity? That is the question Democratic leaders and activists should be pondering in the wake of another election day disaster.

Is it better to run pro-choice candidates who oppose all restrictions on abortion in districts where the majority of voters are pro-life, or is it better to end the abortion litmus test and support pro-life Democrats who can compete in these districts?

{mosads}These are not abstract questions. In 2006 and 2008, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) made a concerted effort to recruit excellent candidates whose values matched the voters’ values. Democrats took control of the House, and newly elected Democrats, including pro-life Democrats, played a key role in passing legislation that has made a real difference in people’s lives, including the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which (even with its flawed implementation) has expanded access to quality, affordable healthcare to millions of Americans.

In 2010, however, the Democratic Party suffered a severe setback in a wave election that wiped out moderates, centrists, and other Democrats in swing districts. Pro-life Democrats, who received minimal backing from the party even in many of these critical districts, were hit harder than any other group.  There were a variety of reasons Democrats struggled in 2010, including the economy, but the lack of clarity about abortion funding in the ACA was critical in some of these races, as right-wing anti-abortion activists smeared these Democrats, accusing them of voting for the public funding of abortion. And the party has done nothing to rebuild the strength of pro-life Democrats since.

The result is that there will be more Republicans in the House than at any point since Harry Truman was president. And there will be just a handful of pro-life Democrats.

Over thirty percent of the Democratic Party is pro-life. That is over 20 million pro-life Democrats. And this number excludes those who have left the party out of dissatisfaction with the party’s absolutist position on abortion, despite being sympathetic its economic agenda.

These voters are not represented. They want to vote for candidates who share their values. Instead, there will be just a few pro-life Democrats in the House after we witnessed race after race in which pro-choice candidates lost winnable races in pro-life districts.

Wendy Davis became a national star, championed by Democratic leaders after her filibuster against a bill that would restrict late-term abortion. But in the race to be the next governor of Texas, Davis was trounced—unable to win even 40 percent of the vote.

Sen. Mark Udall (D) of Colorado earned a new nickname: Mark Uterus. His constant “war on women” rhetoric and singular focus on abortion and contraception turned what should have been an easy win into an embarrassing loss.

Emily Cain (D), who was running to represent Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, also made abortion the key issue of her campaign. She lost in a Democratic-leaning district that had been in Democratic hands since 1995. Also in Maine, Congressman Mike Michaud (D) submitted to the party’s pro-choice litmus test, switching his position on abortion as he decided to run for governor. He, too, lost.

Abortion on demand will never be the foundation of a durable Democratic majority. Millennials are more progressive than older generations in many ways, but they are also more pro-life than the generation that preceded them. The question is: will these young pro-life progressives stick with a party that turns its back on them?

The strongest foundation for a more successful Democratic Party is a real plan to increase economic security, opportunity, and justice for all Americans, one that the vast majority of Democrats can get behind. This, combined with a big tent policy that recognizes the diversity that exists within the party on abortion, is the strongest path forward for Democrats. The Democratic Party can become the majority party—not just in presidential elections—if we put forward a smart, progressive plan to make government work for working class and middle class Americans, and if the party supports candidates who back this plan, regardless of where they stand on abortion.

Democratic leaders have to ask themselves what matters more: winning elections and ensuring that Americans have jobs, healthcare, and a better future for themselves and their children, or ideological purity on abortion among their Congressional candidates? Their answer will determine the future of the Democratic Party and American politics.

Day is executive director of Democrats for Life of America. Christian is a senior fellow at Democrats For Life of America.

Tags Mark Udall

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