Lynch may be too conservative for Mass. Democrats

First Scott Brown, then Bill Weld and Tagg Romney. One by one, prominent Republicans are taking a pass on the Massachusetts special election for Senate. But, with apologies to Dr. Keith Ablow, there is already a candidate in the race who voted against Obamacare, opposes abortion and backed the Bush-era invasion of Iraq: Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch.

This slightly heterodox voting record is likely to dog Lynch in the Massachusetts Democratic primary, where Rep. Ed Markey will run to his left. But in a state where the Republican bench isn’t very deep, it may be the closet to ideological diversity the voters get.

“Calling me the least liberal member from Massachusetts is like calling me the slowest Kenyan in the Boston Marathon,” Lynch told the Boston Globe in 2010. “It’s all relative.”

In fact, the South Boston Democrat has voted with the liberal Americans for Democratic Action 95 percent of the time and the American Conservative Union just four percent.

But Bay State progressives can afford to be more demanding. Lynch had considered a run in the 2010 special election for the Senate seat once held by Ted Kennedy. When he demurred, most reports said it was due to insufficient enthusiasm from his union base. Martha Coakley, who went on to win the Democratic nomination and lose to Scott Brown, had picked up the endorsement of Teamsters Local 25.

Yet Lynch needed overwhelming union support in the first place because other liberal interest groups were unlikely to help him. In his last competitive Democratic primary, during a 2001 special House election, he was pilloried by opponents for being pro-life.

“Unlike some people, I’m not sure precisely when life begins, or whether a fetus is a legal person,” Lynch once explained to liberal newspaper columnist Thomas Oliphant. “But I believe strongly that this is at least the potential of human life and that it is the most special and precious gift, and must be protected.”

Once in office, Lynch voted to ban partial-birth abortion. He also supported federal funding for health care providers that refuse to perform or provide referrals for abortions and backed a bill inspired by the Laci Peterson murder that recognized unborn children as victims in attacks on pregnant women. He voted for federal intervention to protect Terri Schiavo, a woman whose estranged husband wanted to remove her feeding tube over the objections of her parents and pro-lifers.

In practice, however, Lynch’s abortion voting record has been all over the place. He voted with the National Right to Life Committee 64 percent of the time in 2002-03 before dropping to zero percent in 2007-08. He voted with NARAL Pro-Choice America 100 percent of the time in 2007 but earned a zero rating from them just the year before.

Most recently, he has voted with Planned Parenthood (83 percent) far more often than National Right to Life (10 percent). His career ratings are split down the middle: 50 percent from NARAL, 40 percent from National Right to Life. “He’s not an abortion extremist,” wrote liberal Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan. “And, even here, most voters aren’t either.”

But many groups that will be active in the Democratic primary are. Lynch has voted more with pro-choice groups in recent years and now backs taxpayer-funded embryonic stem-cell research, which he once opposed. He nevertheless continues to describe himself as pro-life. He has opposed sex-selection abortions and voted for the Stupak Amendment, which would have kept the federal health care reform law from funding abortion.