Michigan Democrat Saltonstall drops out of race to fill Stupak's seat

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 10, 2010; 4:24 PM

Democrat Connie Saltonstall, the abortion-rights advocate who challenged retiring Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) after he resisted a health-care overhaul because of his antiabortion stance, ended her campaign Monday after the party establishment closed ranks around another candidate.

Several national women's rights and abortion-rights advocacy groups rallied around Saltonstall's primary challenge against Stupak. But after the longtime congressman announced last month he would retire, others jumped into the race to succeed him in Michigan's mostly rural 1st Congressional District, which spans the state's vast Upper Peninsula.

Local Democratic leaders favored Gary McDowell, a state representative who shares Stupak's antiabortion stance, believing that his positions would be more tenable in one of the country's most socially conservative Democratic districts.

Saltonstall, a former teacher and Charlevoix County commissioner, said in a statement that she would have difficulty raising enough money to compete against McDowell.

"I am forced to do this because it has become apparent to my campaign that the leadership of the Michigan Democratic Party has preemptively anointed Gary McDowell as their Democratic candidate," Saltonstall said. "They are replacing Bart Stupak with another Upper Peninsula, anti-choice, anti-women's health-care rights candidate."

Stupak's high-profile role in the health-care debate -- his last-minute deal barring federal funding for abortions enabled the historic overhaul to pass the House in March and become law -- drew national attention to his reelection race. Several "tea party" groups rallied against him, accusing him of enabling the bill to pass, while women's groups mobilized behind Saltonstall, who made health care and abortion rights key issues in her campaign.

Saltonstall won the endorsements of the National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Women's Campaign Forum.

NOW President Terry O'Neill said in a statement that Saltonstall "bravely stepped forward" to challenge Stupak and that the state Democratic Party treated her "disgracefully" by withholding its support after Stupak announced his retirement.

"Connie saw an injustice take place during the health-care debate, and she decided to do something about it," O'Neill said. "We hope that other women will follow her lead and continue running for office, even when it means challenging a longtime incumbent."

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