"It's like nobody has seen a primary election and a general election before," said the Republican political consultant who picked up the phone.
Yes, the website for Tom Barrett, the MI-7 Republican congressional candidate, was changed after the primary election, this consultant conceded. Barrett's strong "protect life from conception" stance on abortion was moved out of a "Values" section of the webpage to a section on "Life."
Barrett's page now describes him as a "consistent pro-life state legislator." His opponent, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, is the one who is "extreme" on abortion, he claims.
"She opposes any limits, right up until birth, wants taxpayers to pay for abortions, and wants to take away a parent's right to know if their minor daughter seeks an abortion," the web pages read at a certain point, before they was changed again.
Whatever it reads now, the point remains.
Barrett wants to focus on Slotkin's support for the Reproductive Freedom For All constitutional amendment, which allows for the state Legislature to put limitations on abortion after viability but doesn't come with any automatic limitations of its own. (See Aug. 18 column).
Barrett isn't doing anything novel here. In the primary election, his message was to rally conservative voters by letting him know he's 100% pro life. Among Republicans, 70% support the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Among the general electorate, 36% believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases and 29% believe abortion should be legal in all cases.
It's the final 33% that Barrett and Slotkin are vying for. These folks believe abortion should be legal in most cases.
These are the people who will decide the 7th Congressional District race and that's why they're accusing the other of being "extreme."
Her support for the constitutional amendment aside, Slotkin said she supports abortion up to the point of viability. At that point, if the health of the mother is an issue, a decision needs to be made between her and her doctor, not the government and the doctor.
"He's trying to hide from his position," Slotkin told me. "He's changed his website three times since yesterday morning and he's landed one that deflects the issue toward me. I would ask Mr. Barrett to own his position."
Abortion isn't the only game at play here as both try to win over the moderate independents who will decide this election.
While most Democrats celebrated President Joe Biden canceling $10,000 of student debt to low- to-middle income borrowers, Slotkin's message during a WILS radio interview was moderated.
She acknowledged that college debt is an issue because school is three times more expensive than it was 25 years ago, but lots of people have lot of different types of debt.
"I think it was a Band-Aid of an option that doesn't speak to the root of the problem," she said.
Speaking to the middle is what Slotkin and Barrett will be doing from now until Nov. 8.
Slotkin will say Barrett hurt job creation when he voted against $600 million in public subsidies for a 4,000-job General Motors electric vehicle battery plant in Delta Township. He's also voted against other incentives.
Barrett said government has given too much taxpayer money to too many corporations for too long. Under a free-market system, industry will make money-making decisions regardless of government help.
Barrett is hearing the country is on the wrong track. The cost of living is going up. There's too much crime. Too many people are illegally sneaking over the U.S. border.
Slotkin is hearing that the cost of prescription drugs and health care are, in some cases, more than a mortgage. She'd like to bring back the supply chain "back home" as a way to create economic security and deal with inflation.
She's also hearing about abortion, a lot. From Republican women, in particular. They aren't thrilled with a pro-life-with-limited-to-no-exceptions position.
It explains why Barrett's reference to abortion on his website is evolving.
(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at email@example.com.)
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