Related story: As summer ends, 6th District race heats up
Remarks about rape from a Missouri congressman and the national Republican Party’s platform plank on abortion triggered a war of words late this month among the two top candidates for the newly drawn 6th Congressional District and their parties’ leaders.
Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett denounced Rep. Todd Akin’s controversial recent comment that cases of “legitimate rape” do not result in pregnancies.
Bartlett, along with prominent Republicans, called for Akin to end his campaign for Senate, which Akin has so far refused to do.
“I have known Todd Akin for over a decade and consider him a friend, but his recent comments about rape are offensive and wrong. There is no room in politics for these types of statements,” Bartlett said in an Aug. 21 statement. “... As a human physiologist I know there is no scientific backing to Todd’s claims.”
The 10-term octogenarian was immediately called out by Democrats for his morphing views on when abortion is acceptable.
The Maryland Democratic Party went after Bartlett on Twitter, with a series of tweets accusing the congressman of avoiding questions about his positions on rape and abortion.
“Keep whining @Roscoe Bartlett,” the party tweeted on Aug. 21. “We are going to keep talking about how you & Akin want to redefine rape.”
After multiple such tweets, Bartlett’s campaign manager, Ted Dacey, responded on Aug. 23
“Congressman Bartlett has never hidden the fact that he is pro-life, but any attempt by Democrats to link him to the actions and words of Todd Akin is absurd. It is shameful that Maryland Democrats would be using an issue as serious as this to score political points,” Dacey said in an email.
The exchange prompted Democratic challenger and Potomac businessman John Delaney to issue a response on Aug. 23 that read: "It is unfortunate that the poorly crafted tweet by the state party, which was designed to refer to Congressman Bartlett's sponsorship of H.R. 3 last January, was misinterpreted by the Congressman and caused him offense."
But the topic will not be fading away anytime soon, according to the state head of the Democratic Party.
“He has a confusing record on this issue,” said Matthew Verghese, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, referring to Bartlett. “It runs to his whole core message to being a principled elected official ... he says he is unabashedly pro-life, but says yes on some days to exceptions, and no on others. It’s [Bartlett’s position] is not authentic.”
Bartlett co-sponsored the Sanctity of Life Act in 2007, 2009 and 2011, a bill that would outlaw abortion altogether by declaring life to begin at conception. He also supported a 2001 resolution that prohibited abortion except when the mother’s life is at stake.
He was also a cosponsor of HR 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act which would have limited federal funding to abortions in cases of “forcible rape,” but not for statutory or coerced rape.
Bartlett said in an email this week that he is anti-abortion with three exceptions: when the life of the mother is at risk, and in cases of rape and incest.
His position is a rerun of a position he held in 1992 in his successful race against former state Del. Thomas Hattery.
In a 2011 Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans were in favor of abortion in cases of rape or incest.
Bartlett would not comment on his change of heart on exceptions for abortion, despite repeated requests by The Gazette for a response.
Nickolaus Mueller, the Libertarian congressional candidate for the 6th District, said that Bartlett’s positions “are based more on political expediency than they are on logic or values.”
Delaney, meanwhile, would not speculate on Barlett’s flip-flopping on the abortion issue.
Bartlett faces the stiffest competition since his win in 1992 against Hattery because district lines were redrawn last year that give his Democratic challenger an advantage.
The 6th District now includes a larger portion of Montgomery County, adding 42,000 Democrats. Of the district’s 394,040 registered voters, 183,847 are Democrats and 142,029 are Republicans, according to the Maryland Board of Elections.
The rest are independent, including 65,981 unaffiliated voters. Women voters outnumber men in the 6th District, 53 percent to 47 percent. The redrawn map will be the subject of a state referendum question in November, but its outcome will have no effect on this race.
“This [the Akin] controversy is not just about one person, but represents a wing of Republicans at the far right,” Verghese said. “We want to show that Todd Akin, Paul Ryan [nominee for Republican vice president] and Roscoe Bartlett are all on the same page when it comes to this issue ... this [women’s reproductive rights] is going to be a big campaign issue.”
But Bartlett’s former Chief of Staff Harold “Bud” Otis, who served as chief for 11 years before resigning in November 2011, said he believes the abortion issue will not be the key to the outcome of the 6th District election.
“The candidates need to focus on putting people back to work,” Otis said. “Even though this [the right to life] is a very important issue to the Republican Party ... the party needs to get the discussion going on the real issues of this campaign.”
Overall, Bartlett has been “supportive of women” during his 20-year tenure, according to Otis. He cited Bartlett’s longtime office policy of giving mothers of young children a flexible work schedule.
But the congressman’s voting record tells another story.
Bartlett voted against the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993 that requires employers of 50 or more to give 12 weeks of unpaid leave for an illness or to care for a new child or sick family member.
He voted twice against a bill in 2007 and 2009 that extends the time employees can file discrimination complaints against employers. President Barack Obama (D) signed the bill, the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, into law in 2009.
In 2009, Bartlett voted against a bill requiring justification from employers for pay inequity between men and women doing the same job.
Delaney has never served in political office, but Campaign Manager Justin Schall said in an email that as a business owner, his boss offers paid paternal leave as a benefit and “is a very strong supporter of the Family Medical Leave Act.”
“John believes women’s rights are at the very core of our country’s identity and he welcomes the chance to discuss them as an important issue on this campaign,” Schall said.
Delaney’s website does not yet include a platform plank specifically targeting women’s issues.
Mueller said he does not distinguish people by groups, but Republicans and Democratss should “feel free” to make women’s rights an issue.
But he does have a position on the question of abortion.
“I am strongly pro-choice, but more sympathetic to those who are pro-life than Democrats seem to be,” he said. “Abortion is one of the most complex issues given that two lives are involved, and I do not take lightly the idea of ending a life, and I fully understand the opposition raised to it by the religious.”