November 13, 2005

Harris Wofford and the Politics of Abortion

This post probably won't be of interest to most people--I don't have anything substantive to say about abortion, I'm just nitpicking some impressions left by Peter Boyer's recent New Yorker article about Senate races in Pennsylvania in the early 90s. So I'm putting it all below the fold.

Boyer (not online) writes:

Paul Begala, who is expected to join Casey [Jr]'s campaign, knows the difficulties in bucking Party orthodoxy. Begala managed Harris Wofford's 1991 Senate campaign. As a member of the senior Casey's cabinet, Wofford had supported the Abortion Control Act. "We had the hardest time raising money," Begala says, "because even having the slightest deviation was lethal." In 1994, Wofford lost to Rick Santorum.

I have no doubt about any of Boyer's facts, but it seems to me that he leaves a couple of misleading impressions.

(1) He makes it sound as though Wofford performed worse than expected in 1991. In fact, Wofford had never held elected office when Casey Sr. appointed him to the Senate after John Heinz's tragic death. Dick Thornburgh, former governor and U.S. Attorney General, was expected to destroy Wofford in the 1991 special election, but Wofford upset him.

(2) More important, the last sentence of the paragraph makes it sound as though Wofford lost in 1994 because of his support of restrictions on abortion. In fact, Casey Sr.--who, remember, had appointed Wofford--refused to support or campaign for him because Wofford was not strictly pro-life (he supported the IMO egregious restrictions on abortion in the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, but no more). Santorum defeated him narrowly, 49 to 47, and I am sure that if Casey Sr. had supported Wofford he would have won. Weak fundraising support among pro-choice people may have hurt Wofford some, but this story is more an indication of intolerance among pro-life Democrats than among pro-choice Democrats. (Or, to be realistic, intolerance of deviation by Casey Sr., who by 1994 was essentially focused on this one issue.)

Of course national trends were also important; in 1991 voters were unhappy with Bush, in 1994 with Clinton, and both races were effectively nationalized, as the F & M analysis shows.

Posted by Matt Weiner at November 13, 2005 09:57 AM