LEWISTON – The gubernatorial ad wars took a turn into new terrain this week with the airing of the latest in a series of commercials by the Maine Democratic Party.

Abortion.

Democrats are hoping that a new commercial focusing on abortion rights will grab the attention of their base voters while also making Republican Chandler Woodcock unacceptable to people who might be dissatisfied with Gov. John Baldacci but who put great importance on social issues.

In the ad, Doran Lovell of Portland looks into the camera and talks about Woodcock’s voting record on abortion and emergency contraception and says that he would move the state “backward” and take away a woman’s “right to chose.”

The Democratic ad began airing Tuesday, but was unveiled officially by the party Thursday. The ad will run for at least a week, said Jess Knox, the Democratic Party’s campaign director.

The Democratic Party is counting on the liberal-leaning state – which upheld an anti-discrimination law strongly supported by Baldacci despite national trends to the contrary last year – to respond to an advertisement that focuses on Woodcock’s socially conservative voting record.

Woodcock opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is threatened. Baldacci supports abortion rights.

When told about the advertisement, Chris Jackson, Woodcock’s campaign manager interrupted, “Let me guess: It doesn’t focus on anything that John Baldacci has done or is going to do.”

So far, Woodcock has kept the public face of his campaign focused on the state’s economy, but has answered questions about abortion or other social issues when asked.

“He’s never denied his position or hid from it,” Jackson said.

Jackson says that abortion could play a small role in the election. “There are people on both sides of the issue who feel very strong about it, but that goes both ways.”

Abortion, Jackson said, is not what this campaign is about.

“What we’re hearing out there on the campaign trail is absolutely zero about social issues,” Jackson said. “People are talking about jobs and the economy and getting Maine back on track.”

“We know this is a clear area of contrast between the candidates,” Knox said.

“The reality of it is, if or when the (Supreme Court) decides to roll back Roe v. Wade, the governor is the first line of defense.”

Green Independent Pat LaMarche and independent Barbara Merrill, who are also running for governor, have said they support abortion rights.

But the ad carries risk. The abortion issue is a motivator for many conservative voters and has the potential to split Democrats, especially those who oppose abortion but vote Democratic on other issues.

“There’s a big pro-life contingent in the Lewiston-Auburn area,” said Rita Feeney, the president of the Maine Right to Life Committee, which is based in Auburn. “The ad might work in downtown Portland, but it wouldn’t work in Lewiston. While (the Democratic Party) might think Chandler Woodcock’s position is a negative, there are other people who don’t.”

The issue is about more than just abortion, Knox said. “The facts that the ad lays out also show that Woodcock opposes family planning and comprehensive sex education, which reduces abortions and has helped reduce teen pregnancy by almost 50 percent in Maine.”

In a SurveyUSA poll from last year, 63 percent of respondents in Maine described themselves as “pro-choice.” Thirty-three percent described themselves as “pro-life.”

Feeney, however, said that most people, except the most ardent abortion-rights supporters, support limitation on abortion.

“Most people consider themselves pro-life,” Feeney said. “But then they may go on to qualify that.”

Green Independent Pat LaMarche and independent Barbara Merrill, who are also running for governor, have said they support abortion rights.


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