As Catholic voters appeared to break for Republican candidates, Election Day 2010 changed the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives, several governorships and Senate seats.
Pro-life Democrats, especially those who voted for the comprehensive health care reform law backed by President Obama, suffered heavily, while pro-life Republicans gained.
Overall, Republicans are projected to pick up more than 60 seats in the House and have already exceeded the 218 seats needed to take over as the leaders of the House.
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to be named the Speaker of the House. He will be the second Catholic from the Republican Party to hold the position. He replaces another Catholic, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
The health care bill may have played a role in the defeat of many self-described pro-life Democrats who voted for it.
In Pennsylvania, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper lost to Mike Kelly while Rep. Paul Kajnorski lost to Lou Barletta. Ohio’s Rep. Charlie Wilson, in office for four years, lost to political novice Bill Johnson, while Rep. John Boccieri of Ohio lost to Jim Renacci. West Virginia Rep. Allan Mollohan lost his primary race to state legislator Mike Oliverio, who in turn lost to Republican David McKinley. Indiana’s Rep. Baron Hill lost to Todd Young.
Pro-life Democrats who supported the health care but still won reelection include West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall, Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. Kaptur faced a Republican challenger whose campaign was significantly crippled by the revelation he was an historical re-enactor who wore Nazi uniforms.
Opposition to the health care bill did not save pro-life Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), who lost his race by an 18-point margin. But Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), a pro-lifer who opposed the health care legislation in part because of its inadequate abortion funding restrictions, took 70 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Michael Bendas.
Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat who led the movement to add statutory abortion funding restrictions to the bill, retired from Congress after controversy over his compromise with a presidential executive order purporting to restrict abortion funding. His longtime Democratic seat went to Republican Dan Benishek, a pro-life physician whose Democratic challenger Gary McDowell also self-identified as pro-life.
Virginia Democrat Rep. Tom Perriello, a co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, lost to Republican Robert Hurt by about four percentage points. Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) lost to Steve Chabot, a Republican who reclaimed the seat he lost in 2008. Both supported the health care legislation.
The Democrat-leaning group Catholics United had pledged to raise $500,000 to support candidates such as Reps. Perriello, Boccieri, Dahlkemper and Driehaus. However, the Federal Election Commission website did not report any funds from the group being used in races and final data may not be available for several more weeks.
Also pouring money into campaigns around the country was the Susan B. Anthony List, which reported that it spent $11 million. The group, whose primary focus is electing pro-life women, spent $3.4 million on targeting pro-life Democrats who voted for the health care bill, and $2.3 million on electing pro-life women. SBA List argued that the health care bill funded abortion with federal dollars, echoing an argument made by the U.S. Catholic bishops.
The Democratic Party retained control of the U.S. Senate. Hard-line pro-abortion Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) held her seat against pro-life challenger Carly Fiorina. Nevada Republican Sharron Angle failed to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, while Republican Christine O’Donnell lost her race in Delaware by a significant margin.
However, pro-life candidates Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) won their Senate races.
In Pennsylvania the pro-life Pat Toomey appeared set to succeed pro-abortion Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter, whom he previously challenged in the 2004 Republican primary. Then-Sen. Rick Santorum’s backing of Specter over Toomey is widely believed to have damaged Santorum’s failed 2006 re-election bid. Specter himself lost his 2010 Democratic primary to Congressman Joe Sestak.
Pro-life candidates also fared well in governor’s races. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.), Mary Fallin (R-Okla.), Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), Susana Martinez (R-N.M.) were winners backed by the Susan B. Anthony List. Outgoing Republican U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a convert to Catholicism, handily won the governorship of Kansas.
The issue of same-sex “marriage” appeared to play a role in Iowa, where the state Supreme Court imposed it unanimously in 2009. All three Supreme Court justices on the ballot were rejected by the voters. A “Personhood Amendment” initiative in Colorado – which would have given personhood status in the state constitution to all humans “from the beginning of biological development”–garnered only about 30 percent of the vote, a slight improvement over its 2008 showing.
The role of Catholics in this election continues to be disputed, with some observers questioning whether the “Catholic vote” can still be said to exist. However, a CNN exit poll showed 44 percent of self-described Catholics voting for Democrats and 54 percent choosing Republicans. In the 2008 election, Democrats enjoyed a ten percentage point lead over Republicans among Catholics.