Back in 1994, being pro-choice on abortion was a popular political position — even for conservative Republicans. A solid majority of Maine voters had made it clear in earlier elections that they didn't want government restrictions placed on a woman's right to control her body. Candidates for high public office who espoused contrary views did so at their peril.
That year, Jim Longley Jr. was running for Congress in the state's 1st District. Longley was reluctant to discuss abortion, but when pressed, claimed to favor keeping it legal.
Longley's vagueness may have had something to do with not wanting to annoy several major donors to his campaign who were firmly pro-life. It may also have been an attempt to conceal his own anti-abortion inclinations. Whatever the reason, his careful treading around the question didn't go unnoticed by one of his pro-choice opponents in the GOP primary.
"I would be hard pressed to trust him on this [issue]," the candidate told the Portland Press Herald, shortly before election day.
The outspoken young hopeful had good cause to contrast his unwavering stand for legal abortions with Longley's wishy-washiness. Unlike Longley, he had served two terms in the Maine Legislature, where he had compiled a solid record of supporting reproductive rights. He voted against a bill that would have required parental consent before a minor could get an abortion. He received a 100 percent rating on an issues scorecard from NARAL, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. He told reporters he not only favored the US Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, but backed federal funding of abortions for low-income women and appropriations for family planning.
Although this stalwart fellow ended up losing the primary to Longley, he wasn't discouraged. In 2004, he ran for Congress again, and this time he captured the Republican nomination. Since both he and his Democratic opponent, Tom Allen, were pro-choice, the issue wasn't a major focus of the fall campaign, and Allen's solid win had nothing to do with abortion.
Undaunted, our boy returned to the fray in 2008. He entered the GOP congressional primary in spite of being on active duty in Iraq with the US Navy. His wife filled in for him during an early interview with the Press Herald. Asked his position on reproductive rights, she said, "He doesn't condone abortion by any stretch of the imagination, but he does believe that it's a person's choice. It's just not the government's decision to make that choice for you."
Tough to tell what he meant with that stuff about not condoning. But when he returned from the war, he was attacked by his Republican opponent, Dean Scontras, for allegedly making statements to some audiences that could have been interpreted as being pro-life. During a debate in May of '08, he tried to set the record straight.
"I have not flip-flopped on abortion and [Scontras] knows that," he said. "I've been pro-choice."
A few days later at a forum in Portland, he reiterated his stand, according to the Bangor Daily News, saying he didn't believe abortion was necessarily a good idea, but it was a private matter.
He won that primary, but lost the general election to Democrat Chellie Pingree. Again, abortion wasn't an issue, since she, too, was a supporter of a woman's right to choose.