Kevin Raye

BANGOR, Maine (WOMENSENEWS)–Abortion rights groups and moderate Republicans around the country are targeting their support this year in an uncommon match-up in Maine’s 2nd District between a pro-choice Republican and a Democrat who opposes abortion rights.

“The race in Maine is a rare opportunity to increase the Republican pro-choice presence in the House of Representatives, so we’re maxing out for Kevin Raye,” says Lynn Grefe, national director of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, a political action committee. “It also brings the pro-choice groups together to work for a Republican and that’s what we like to see.”

Raye, a longtime staff member for Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, is running for an open seat in Congress against Democrat Michael Michaud, a state senator who is a forklift operator by trade and a favorite of Maine unions.

Michaud won his June primary when five other Democrats, including some leaders on reproductive rights, split the pro-choice vote. Michaud does not emphasize the issue on the campaign trail, though he has had financial support from anti-choice groups. A Roman Catholic, he is for an increase in the minimum wage and supports prescription drug price controls. In addition, when he was president of the Maine senate, he appointed pro-choice women to co-chair key health and judiciary committees. The seat opened when U.S. Rep. John Baldacci, a Democrat, decided to run for governor.

The nationwide enthusiasm among Republican abortion rights supporters is an obvious outgrowth of Raye’s political and personal lives. He has served as a key operative for Snowe at recent Republican National Conventions in struggles over what kind of language should be in the Republican Platform regarding abortion. (The 2000 convention modified its anti-choice language in the platform to recognize abortion rights supporters’ place in the party.) Because of that insider role, he has served on the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition’s board of directors, according to campaign staff.

Raye is married to Karen Raye, the former executive director of the WISH List, a Republican political action committee that supports pro-choice Republican women–its acronym stands for Women In the Senate and House. Karen Raye is using her contacts and experience to work on her husband’s behalf and WISH List President Candace Straight has helped raise money for the Maine campaign, Karen Raye says.

Race is Unusual in More Ways Than One

Though the race in Maine’s 2nd District is unusual, a host of Republican congressional candidates around the country support abortion rights, including six incumbent stalwarts in the House of Representatives and an array of challengers.

Yet the Maine race is widely said to be special. It’s one of just a few seriously competitive races for the House of Representatives, with polls continually showing a tight contest. Such Washington oracles as pollster Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report call the race a “toss-up.” Analyst Stuart Rothenberg, of The Rothenberg Political Report, names the district as one of the “Dangerous Dozen” in his column in the political publication Roll Call. Campaigns and Elections Magazine’s “Political Oddsmaker,” which claims a 98 percent accuracy rate, gives the race a 13:12 chance of going for Democrat Michaud.

A poll in early September by RKM Research and Communications for a consortium of Maine media showed that the candidates were running about even at that time. In the survey of 311 likely voters in the district, 31 percent said that they would vote for Michaud, and 27 percent for Raye, with 37 percent undecided. The margin of error for the small survey was 5.7 percent, so the results do not indicate a leader.

Depending on other races, the winner in Maine could ultimately play a decisive role in determining whether Republicans or Democrats will control the House.

A Clash between Democratic Control and Abortion Rights

For voters and abortion rights groups around the country, the race poses an interesting dilemma. Activists and analysts agree that a Congress controlled by Democrats would be far friendlier to women and to reproductive rights, even though the Democrat running in Maine’s 2nd District opposes abortion rights.

Officials at the National Abortion Rights Action League get asked about that a lot, says Mary Jane Gallagher, executive vice president of the group. However, the question is easy to address because the group is nonpartisan, she says.

“The reality in America is that we don’t want choice to be seen as something that just liberals support, because our support is across the board,” Gallagher says. “The more Kevin Rayes we can get in the U.S. House of Representatives, the more women’s rights and freedoms will be respected.”

The incumbent in Maine’s 2nd District is a Democrat, but the district has a bipartisan history. Baldacci has represented the district since his election in 1994, when Snowe, a Republican, vacated the seat to run for the Senate. She had held the seat for 16 years. Before Snowe, William Cohen, a Bangor Republican who is now a former U.S. senator and former secretary of defense, held the seat from his election in 1972 to 1978.

Abortion rights are an especially interesting key to politics in Maine, where all but a few members of Congress and governors from all parties have been pro-choice for decades. No congressional candidate in the 2nd District who has opposed abortion rights has won election since before the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973.

One such pro-choice official is Republican John R. McKernan Jr., Snowe’s husband. McKernan is chairman of the executive board of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a political action committee that is financially backing Raye. The partnership is a creation of Republican moderates like McKernan from around the country who want to support candidates who are fiscally conservative but more progressive on abortion, the environment and other issues.

“Kevin Raye is one of our favorites because he’s a good moderate,” says Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership. “He lines up with us fiscally and he lines up on social issues.”

Aside from the maximum political action committee contributions from the National Abortion Rights Action League, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition and others, activists will also be working hard in coming weeks to help stimulate a good voter turnout.

Gallagher, of the National Abortion Rights Action League, says the group has worked hard in recent years to identify a cadre of voters in every state who can be activated to help secure a candidate’s victory. Those voters, in turn, can provide 5 percent to 12 percent of the total vote, she says.

“It’s our goal to provide the margin to put these candidates over the top, and we’ve done it in several races,” Gallagher says. “That’s why people seek our endorsement.”

Marie Tessier is a freelance writer who lives in Maine and covers national and international issues.

For more information:

Republican Pro-Choice Coalition:

Kevin Raye Campaign:

Michael Michaud Democrat for Congress: