Scott Fights Abortion Attack, But Is He Playing Into Democrats' Hands? | Off Message

Scott Fights Abortion Attack, But Is He Playing Into Democrats' Hands?


Candy Moot says she was "close to tears" this week as she sat in front of a television camera and discussed an organization and a political candidate that both mean the world to her: Planned Parenthood and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

The Morgan resident and retired Statehouse lobbyist spent years volunteering for Planned Parenthood and served a stint on its board of directors in the 1980s. She says she has known Scott, the Republican nominee for governor, for just as long — and she's always known him to be pro-choice.

So when Moot saw the first of two recent Planned Parenthood Action Fund ads questioning Scott's commitment to abortion rights, she jotted off a rant on Facebook. Scott's campaign contacted her and asked whether she would appear in a video responding to the attacks. She complied.

"I will tell you something: It broke my heart to do that," Moot says. "I'm sorry to be emotional. It broke my heart to do that ad."

In the video, which the Scott campaign released Thursday afternoon, Moot says she was "outraged and sickened that Planned Parenthood has distorted" Scott's position on abortion rights.

"Phil Scott is pro-choice and has always been pro-choice," she continues. "That's, I think, why I'm particularly disappointed to see these distortions and lies, because that's what they are. And I think Planned Parenthood needs to be ashamed of themselves for the ads they've been running."

It's a powerful rejoinder to an eviscerating series of attacks. But was it wise to engage in the debate at all?

Probably not .

Every two years, like clockwork, Vermont Democrats try to goad Republican candidates into a debate over social issues. It makes political sense. While many Vermonters consider themselves fiscal conservatives, most see themselves as social liberals. Simply put, the views of the national Republican Party on gay rights and abortion do not fly in Vermont.

A state-by-state poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014 found that 70 percent of Vermonters believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 26 percent believe it should not. That makes Vermont tied for second place with Washington, D.C., as the most pro-choice state — or district — in the union. (Massachusetts came in first, at 74 percent to 22 percent.)

Scott has found success in statewide politics where other Vermont Republicans have failed in part because he has branded himself as a moderate: He calls himself pro-choice, voted to legalize gay marriage and was one of the first prominent Republicans in the country to speak out against the rise of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

But the real secret to Scott's success has been his devotion to a core message: To grow Vermont's economy and solve its "affordability crisis," state government has to get out of the way.

That's what Scott should be talking about 12 days before the election — not whether he's really in favor of abortion rights. Democrats know it. That's why, within three hours of the Moot video's release, three Democratic outfits dispatched statements trying to further goad Scott into a fight with Planned Parenthood.

"It's a shame that Phil Scott has joined the national Republican attack on Planned Parenthood," said Molly Ritner, campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter.

"Instead of owning up to his record of supporting increased restrictions on women's health care, Phil Scott has joined the national Republican attacks against Planned Parenthood," Vermont Democratic Party spokeswoman Christina Amestoy echoed.

"Phil Scott's attacks on Planned Parenthood are disgraceful and are a direct move out of the national Republican playbook," EMILY's List national press secretary Rachel Thomas added. "If he can't wrap his head around the reality that Planned Parenthood is the trusted health care provider for thousands of Vermont women and men, he is unqualified to lead."

Those statements are plainly ridiculous. As Seven Days reported last December, Scott not only spoke out against national Republican calls to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, he went so far as to visit one of its Burlington clinics.

"I don't think we should be spending our time defunding Planned Parenthood," Scott said last December. "They do really good work for a lot of people in need."

Scott and his campaign weren't attacking Planned Parenthood for the services they provide. They were defending him against nearly $347,000 worth of TV ads that, while literally truthful, are pretty disingenuous. Yes, Scott supports certain restrictions on a woman's right to choose, but he fundamentally agrees with most Vermonters that abortion should be legal in most cases.

That puts him in the same camp as the Democrats' own vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, who like Scott, has opposed late-term abortions and supported parental notification bills. Even Vermont's own Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) voted in 2003 for legislation banning late-term abortions. His colleague at the time, Republican-turned-independent Jim Jeffords, opposed the very same bill.

Does Scott have a case to make? Yes. But it's a nuanced one — and political campaigns operate in a black-and-white world. Engaging in an abortion debate will only lose Scott votes — and he'll need every vote he can get.

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