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Personhood Flip Flops Spotlight the Space Between a Rock and a Hard Place for GOP Candidates

AP's David Espo takes a high-level look at the last few remarkable days of Colorado politics:

Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, moving toward the middle in a Senate race with national stakes, said Tuesday he abandoned his longtime support for measures giving legal rights to fertilized human eggs because it is a "settled issue" at home in Colorado…

Gardner's switch comes as Republicans nationally seek to win control of the Senate in this fall's elections. They hope to avoid a repeat of defeats in 2010 and 2012 in Colorado and elsewhere when their candidates lost apparently winnable races because they appeared too extreme on abortion and other issues for mainstream, moderate voters.

…Jennifer Mason of Personhood USA, which sponsored the personhood initiatives, expressed dismay at his shift. "He was elected to his position by pro-personhood, pro-life voters. It's pretty shocking," she said.

Gardner made his comments as a second Colorado Republican in Congress, Rep. Mike Coffman, also jettisoned his support for personhood proposals.

The decision by U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner and Rep. Mike Coffman whether or not abandon their prior support for the "Personhood" abortion ban measures involved the risk of massive, perhaps lethal political damage no matter which way they came down. To attempt to defend their support of these measures, which would have banned all abortions even in cases of rape or incest (and even some forms of "abortifacient" birth control), would have likely been political suicide. But by ripping the scab of an issue that smart Republican strategists wish would just go away completely, forcing other Republicans into the unwelcome spotlight with their flip-flopping…it's arguable that just as much damage has been done.

Because when you get past the defensive bluster, it's not about "Personhood." It's about banning abortion.

The possibility that the one-sentence Personhood amendments might have "unintended consequences" like banning certain forms of birth control was used unsuccessfully by Ken Buck in 2010 as an excuse to flip-flop, just as Gardner has now done four years later. But between 2010 and today, Gardner sponsored Personhood legislation in Congress with all of the same "unintended consequences" — that being the term of choice for Coffman's campaign explaining his flip-flop on the issue this week. And while we don't want to minimize the extreme nature of a ban on birth control, this excuse seems to be an attempt to distract from the real problem.

Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman both have explicitly supported a total ban on abortion even in cases of rape or incest during their political careers, entirely unconnected to the Personhood amendments. They may have flip-flopped on a specific policy measure which serviced the goal of banning all abortions, but other than Gardner's absurd denial in Lynn Bartels' original story, we've not seen any further engagement on the larger issue:

Gardner said he stepped forward because Udall and his allies have spent the last three weeks "distorting my record." Among the "lies," he said: claiming that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

Folks, as the record shows clearly, that charge is not a lie. There's no question that in the past, both Gardner and Coffman were willing to detail their opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Personhood is serving as an escape hatch for both of these men from bigger questions about the issue of abortion, and Democrats should not let that be the last word. In a state as historically pro-choice as Colorado, with the recent electoral history in our state clearly showing that abortion bans are not what the voters want, flip-flopping on the Personhood amendments without context isn't enough.

Unless this really is all a cheap semantic game? Let's poll some Colorado women voters and find out.

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