TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan - A Democratic congressman targeted for defeat by largely conservative activists in the Tea Party for his crucial role in securing approval of the health care overhaul said Friday he would retire from Congress this year.
U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak told The Associated Press he could have won re-election and insisted he wasn't being chased from the race by the Tea Party. The Tea Party Express, a cross-country bus tour holding rallies in various cities, planned an event this week in Stupak's Michigan district calling for his ouster.
Instead, Stupak said he was tired after 18 years in the House of Represenatives and wanted to spend more time with his family.
"The Tea Party did not run me out," he said in a telephone interview. "If you know me and my personality, I would welcome the challenge."
Stupak, 58, said he had considered retirement for years but was persuaded to stay in Congress because of the prospect of serving with a Democratic majority and helping win approval of the health care overhaul, which he described as his top legislative priority.
During the health care debate, Stupak, a political moderate, emerged as spokesman and chief negotiator for Democrats who withheld support from Obama's plan because they feared it would allow public funding of abortions.
By the numbers
NAME: Bart Stupak
AGE: 58 (Born 2-29-52)
EDUCATION: Associate's degree in criminal justice, Northwestern Michigan Community College, 1972; bachelor's degree in criminal justice, Saginaw Valley State College, 1977; law degree, Cooley Law School, 1981.
POLITICAL CAREER: U.S. House, 1992-present; Michigan House, 1989-1990; attorney; former Escanaba police officer and Michigan State Police trooper, injured in the line of duty.
PERSONAL: Married to Laurie Stupak; one son.
WEB SITE: http://www.stupakforcongress.com
After the president agreed to sign an executive order pledging no federal funding of elective abortions covered by private insurance, Stupak's bloc cast the votes that provided the legislation's narrow victory in the House.
Since then, Stupak has become a symbol for critics of the overhaul. The Tea Party Express labeled him its No. 2 target for defeat after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The group kicked off a $250,000 television and radio blitz in Stupak's district Wednesday, ahead of rallies that began Thursday night and were continuing through the weekend.
"Bart Stupak has lost touch with the people of Michigan, and he has betrayed the public's trust," said Mark Williams, the group's chairman.
Three little-known hopefuls are seeking the Republican nomination, and Stupak faced a primary challenge from a Democrat who is pro-choice on abortion.
Stupak was expected to address media at press conference scheduled for 12:30 p.m. today at the Superior Dome on the campus of Northern Michigan University.