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Richard Piatt ReportingThe dust has settled on the 2004 election, but Democrats are still thinking about it. On a national level some leaders are going so far as to re-evaluate its emphasis on abortion rights as an issue. But will Utah Democrats get pulled into the fray, just to get votes?
Howard Dean helped Utah Democrats raise money this week. The goal: to win upcoming elections. But Dean also has another idea: as a possible party leader next year, he is among those urging the party to embrace pro-life Democrats, a movement toward unity.
Howard Dean, Democatic Party Leader: "We are a party that wants to include people, and I hope we never see an election that the other guys do all the time which is based on dividing us."
Dean is one of several high powered Democrats who are talking about de-emphasizing abortion--an effort to diffuse the power it has in campaigns. In many campaigns, including those of the President over the years, abortion has been a key 'wedge' issue. Republican John Swallow was just one candidate who tried to use it in his campaign against Congressman Jim Matheson last year.
Moral wedge issues are usually a key factor, even though pollster Dan Jones points out they're rarely a top concern for voters.
Dan Jones, Political Pollster: "They really wish that issue would go away. In all my years, I don't know anyone who's changed anyone's mind about it."
And Democratic party chairman Donald Dunn points out, moral issues like abortion and gay rights steal attention away from real issues like health care, the deficit and the war.
Donald Dunn, Chairman, Utah Democratic Party: “We need to not allow the far right to take these wedge issues and make them the only focus of the campaign.”
But there could be dangers in re-evaluating an issue like abortion for Democrats; they risk alienating long time pro-choice advocates and appearing to be flaky.
Spencer Jenkins, Utah Republican Party: "I think it is dangerous for them. They appear more wishy-washy and flip-floppy, and that's what hurt John Kerry during his campaign."
But some Democrats feel they've got to do something to appeal to more voters, especially after John Kerry's loss, and as the party takes a close look at why it happened.