MARQUETTE, Michigan (Reuters) - Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat whose brokering of anti-abortion provisions in President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul drew fire from both liberals and conservatives, said on Friday he will not seek re-election.
Stupak, who said he had considered retiring over the past several election cycles, said he told Democratic leaders and key supporters on Thursday night and early Friday that he would not seek re-election.
The 18-year veteran of the House of Representatives said he was committed to the Democratic Party retaining his seat and believed by announcing his decision now potential successors would have time to prepare for the election.
“My service to the people of Michigan has been one of the greatest honors of my life, but it is time to begin a new and exciting chapter,” Stupak, 58, said in a news conference at Northern Michigan University.
During the healthcare debate, Stupak led a coalition of anti-abortion Democrats that threatened to kill the bill because of concerns it would allow taxpayer money to finance abortions. That angered healthcare reform supporters and abortion-rights advocates who saw it as an effort to expand federal restrictions against abortion.
Stupak settled for an executive order stating that no federal funding for abortion would be provided and ended up voting in favor of the healthcare bill. Anti-abortions groups were outraged and he became a target for the conservative Tea Party movement which sponsored radio and television ads to defeat him in the November congressional elections.
Laurie Stupak said in introducing the congressman that thousands of calls, most from outside Michigan, deluged his congressional offices and their home.
“Unfortunately, some of those calls were vulgar, cruel, profane and threatening,” Laurie Stupak said. “We were saddened and disappointed by the cruelty and hypocrisy of some of the callers.”
Fellow Michigan Democrat Mike Lahti, a state representative, said Stupak would rather spend time with his family than go through a bitter campaign this summer.
“Can you blame him, after what he’s gone through? Why put up with that?” said Lahti, who appeared with Stupak at the press conference.
Stupak told The Hill newspaper a week before the bill’s passage that fighting the measure had been “a living hell” and that obscene calls to his home had forced his wife to unplug the phones.
Stupak’s decision opens up a seat for Republicans to potentially pick up in the November mid-term congressional elections in the Democratic-led House, political analysts said.
Despite the furor over his stance in the healthcare debate, Stupak was seen as likely to win the Democratic primary against a pro-choice challenger and his re-election bid in November.
“It went from an extremely long-shot Republican opportunity to a very good one,” said Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report.
The Tea Party Express, which had announced an advertising campaign to defeat Stupak, was quick to claim victory putting out a press release headlined “Stupak Drinks the Tea.”
But David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report said Stupak was taking heat from all sides.
“I don’t think the Tea Party can necessarily claim a scalp here,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman said he did not think the district would necessarily go Republican. While it is culturally conservative, the district claims a strong working class heritage, he said.
Abortion opponents viewed his decision to retire at the end of his term as the beginning of the political fallout over healthcare reform.
“Bart Stupak entered into a sham political deal that couldn’t be defended with a straight face. He put politics over principle and now even the politics are catching up to him,” said Charmaine Yoest of the group Americans United for Life Action.
Reporting by Donna Smith in Washington and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Jackie Frank