Stupak Gets A Primary Challenge From The Left

A former teacher and county commissioner will challenge Rep. Bart Stupak in the Aug. 3 Democratic primary in Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reported this afternoon.

Connie Saltonstall, a former commissioner in Charlevoix County, told me this evening she’s challenging Stupak over his refusal to allow health care reform to move forward without abortion language attached.Saltonstall told me her “two passions” are health care reform and choice. And after spending the last 20 years voting for Stupak, Saltonstall said he managed to run afoul of both of them.

“I’ve had to vote for him because he’s a Democrat and not a Republican — he was not as bad as the other side,” she said. But Saltonstall said Stupak’s stance on abortion in the health care debate “crossed the line” for her.

“That has happened not only with me but with many Democrats in the district,” she said. Saltonstall told me her phone has been ringing off the hook with calls of support from inside the massive 31-county district.

She outlined how her philosophy on abortion and health care reform differed from Stupak’s in a statement to the Free Press today. “I believe that he has a right to his personal, religious views, but to deprive his constituents of needed health care reform because of those views is reprehensible,” Saltonsall told the told the paper.

Saltonstall told me that her “dream” health care bill would create a single-payer system in the U.S. “But I know how difficult that would be to get,” she said, “so I would support [the current reform proposal] and then work to get it fixed.”

How serious a candidate is Saltonstall? Some of the many calls she’s fielded today, Saltonstall told me, have come from “national groups” expressing a willingness to help her become the Bill Halter of the Upper Peninsula. She wouldn’t name the groups, or how serious the talks have been, but it’s not a stretch to see her candidacy appealing to the same dissatisfied progressive groups pouring millions into Halter’s campaign in Arkansas.

Saltonstall is not a complete political neophyte — she won campaigns for the school board and county commission in Charlevoix county in the past, and mounted a losing campaign for the state Legislature in 2008. But she recognized that taking down an opponent like Stupak is no easy fight.

“I know how difficult it is to defeat an incumbent,” Saltonstall told me. But she said Democratic party leaders from across the district have welcomed her entrance into the race, as Stupak’s willingness to block health care reform over abortion has, according to Saltonstall, turned off many Democratic activists in his district.

For now, Saltonstall’s campaign remains a grassroots effort. Her supporters are in the process of collecting the 1,000 signatures it will take to appear on the ballot next to Stupak in August and she expressed hope that national and local activists will come through with the massive financial foundation she’ll need to build a serious challenge.

“I don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” she told me. “But based on the calls I’ve had today, I feel pretty good.”

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