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Ritter Allows Abortion Stance to Define Him

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The Denver Post today takes on the case of Bill Ritter, the former Denver DA who is currently the only Democratic candidate for governor.

In the two weeks since voters approved the budget measure Referendum C, many of Colorado’s Democratic political players have been using their cellphones and meeting for breakfast to discuss one topic: Who should take on Bill Ritter for the party’s gubernatorial nomination?

At the same time, party activists have unsuccessfully tried to pressure Ritter into softening his faith-based stance against abortion rights to appeal to the party’s more liberal base. “I came to this position after years and years of thinking about it. It is where it is,” Ritter said. “Regardless of my opinion, I respect Roe vs. Wade and would enforce those laws.”

While the former Denver district attorney has all the makings of a formidable statewide candidate, his position has created controversy within a party that locally and nationally is struggling for more widespread appeal while maintaining staunch support for abortion rights. As a result, other moderates who support abortion rights, such as Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, are still being wooed to take on Ritter…

…The perception that Ritter’s position on abortion is a political shortcoming may lead to the Democrats shooting themselves in the foot, some analysts say…The controversy is representative of the Democrats’ national debate about whether they should be open to candidates with more conservative values…

…There is also a chance that if Ritter doesn’t face a primary challenge, he could have an unenthusiastic fundraising base and depress Democratic turnout in the general election, said Jennifer Duffy, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington…In Colorado, some fundraisers and women’s groups are threatening to sit out next year’s election unless the party gets another candidate to jump in, Democratic operatives say.

Ritter’s stance on abortion has caused a considerable stir among Democrats for a long time now, and it’s causing him problems as we head towards the new year and the real beginning of the 2006 election season. But it’s not Ritter’s position on the subject that is causing him problems so much as it is the fact that he has allowed this one issue to define him.

(But first, I digress: can reporters please stop quoting political science professors as authorities on politics? Check out this quote from the Post: “It’s a critical moment for Democrats because they need a highly qualified candidate that can run in a state where there is substantial support for the pro- life position,” said Bob Loevy, a political-science professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

That’s a great quote if it’s true, but if anything Colorado is actually a pro-choice state. Maybe the numbers from this poll aren’t 100% accurate, but at the very least they indicate that Colorado voters are not overwhelmingly pro-life.)

Ritter is pro-life as a matter of personal belief, but he has done a poor job of articulating that his belief may not necessarily lead him to take legal action if he is elected governor. Yet that isn’t why the anti-choice tag hangs around his neck like a political albatross; rather, it is because he has offered up nothing to take its place. Most Democrats only know two things about Ritter: 1) he is the former Denver district attorney, and 2) he is pro-life. Other than that, Ritter has done nothing to define his own image. Right now, that’s all he is, and that’s the main reason why the abortion question continues to dog him.

Most politicians avoid the abortion discussion because they don’t want voters to make a decision on them based on one issue. Avoiding a direct confrontation on the subject allows candidates to talk about the other issues and beliefs that define them, rather than allowing the abortion issue to do it. If candidates can articulate more about where they stand on other issues and topics, a voter is less likely to use one particular issue to make their decision.

In the case of Ritter, he has let one issue swallow him whole. It doesn’t matter if this issue is abortion or education — he has been defined rather than defining himself. Instead of being “Bill Ritter, candidate for governor who happens to be pro-life,” he has become, “Bill Ritter, THE pro-life candidate for governor.” Ritter can complain that Democrats are not seeing the bigger picture and focusing only on abortion, but that’s because he hasn’t given them any other choice. And that’s a shame, really, because Ritter actually has an interesting story. He’s a farm boy who spent three years with his wife on a humanitarian mission in Africa. He has a blue-collar, labor union background and spent 11 years as Denver’s DA. Ritter has a good story to tell, but instead he has let one issue tell the story for him.

People who talk about the weather do so because they don’t know anything else to discuss. It’s the same thing with Ritter — people talk about him in relation to abortion because there is nothing else offered to them.

You are the person you put forth.

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