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Stupak to Retire

The name Bart Stupak means vastly different things to different people, but, on the political landscape, few of them are good. To women and those who embrace the cause of women's rights, Stupak is the Democratic congressman who held health-care reform legislation hostage to his demand that women's constitutional right to have an abortion be impeded and rolled back. To the Tea Party crowd, who have been holding anti-Stupak rallies and running anti-Stupak ads in his rural Michigan district, he is the congressman who caved on his anti-choice demands -- and those of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops -- thus allowing the health-care reform bill to pass into law. Facing a Democratic primary challenge from the left and pointed ire from the right, Stupak has decided to pick up his ball and go home. Today, the Associated Press reports, Stupak will announce that he will not seek a 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Stupak tells the AP's John Flesher that the Tea Party efforts had nothing to do with his decision to retire. He was actually thinking about not running in previous elections, he said, but the prospect of working in a Democratic majority convinced him to seek another term, so that he could be participate in the passage of health-care reform. "I've fought my whole career for health care and thanks to Barack Obama and my colleagues," he told Flesher, "[and] we've gotten it done." Stupak will forever live in infamy for his insistence in amending the original version of health-care reform passed by the House to include an amendment that would make it virtually impossible for a woman who purchases her health insurance through the government-administered exchanges set up by the bill (and virtually the only way anyone seeing to buy health insurance as an individual will be able to purchase affordable coverage) to buy a policy that covers abortion. (The strength of that language is slightly lessened in the Senate version that ultimately passed into law, though it will likely have the same practical effect.) His amendment succeeded because of the votes it garnered from Republicans, who then voted almost unanimously against the bill as a whole. Over the course of the process, it became clear that Stupak was taking his orders from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. When informed that the heads of 60 different orders of women religious, as nuns are called in the Catholic church, had endorsed the Senate version of the bill, Stupak famously said, "When I'm drafting right-to-life language, I don't call up nuns." He went on to say that he consulted with bishops. The Democratic nomination for Stupak's seat will now likely fall to Connie Saltonstall, his primary challenger, who is pro-choice. Conventional wisdom has it that Stupak's seat will be a likely pick-up for the Republicans, give the conservative make-up of the district. The Tea Party Express has been organizing mightily, telling Bloomberg's Patrick O'Connor that they had raised $80,000 for Stupak's defeat as of yesterday. (Connie Saltonstall raised $75,000 through her Web site alone, as of March 23, according to Politico.) On the Republican side, Dan Benishek, who has never before held elective office, is getting all the ink -- and the Tea Party support. Also running in the GOP primary is Linda Goldthorpe, a Ron Paul for President supporter. With Stupak out of the race battle for Michigan's 1st district will likely become even more of a national fight than it was already. Here, for the first time, the might of the left will be pitted directly against the organizers of the Tea Party movement. The outcome of this race will likely be read by the mainstream media as an indication of things to come.