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Inside Politics

Roemer lashes out in DNC chairman race

Memo criticizes candidate's opposition to abortion rights

• Roemer joins DNC race
• Senior Dems woo McAuliffe
Should abortion rights be an issue when Democrats choose their new party chairman?
Democratic Party
Tim Roemer
Howard Dean
Kate Michelman

ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) -- The campaign for Democratic chairman turned contentious over the weekend when Tim Roemer lashed out at criticism of his views on abortion and accused opponents of negative campaigning.

The candidate told a gathering in St. Louis that he wanted to have "a conversation" on issues but that he is "having trouble doing this because of negative campaigning and litmus tests."

His voice rising, Roemer added, "I like a good fight. But don't put my arms behind me. Give me a chance to talk about my values. And don't litmus-test me."

Roemer's comments came at the opening of a candidates' forum at the Democratic National Committee Midwest Caucus on Saturday, a week after the former Indiana congressman formally entered the race.

Roemer aides said he was angry over an opposition research memo being circulated in Washington and Democratic circles that outlined his voting record, which sometimes did not follow party lines. Aides said they did not know who wrote the memo and whether it came from a rival for the party's chairmanship.

Representatives of the other six candidates denied their campaigns distributed the memo.

Roemer's position against abortion rights was criticized last week by some party members.

Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a group that advocates for abortion rights, said she considered running for the job after Roemer entered the race, but opted against it.

"I will spend the next month leading a vigorous effort to ensure that when the DNC elects its new leader, it selects someone who stands forthrightly for a woman's right to choose," Michelman said.

"I will also urge DNC members to make an unequivocal statement that choice is both a fundamental value of the Democratic Party and an essential component of our winning message."

Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Phil Johnston said Tuesday in a written statement, "It would be extremely foolish if the DNC were to be led by a chair who agrees with the Bush administration's position on abortion."

Roemer responded Saturday, "That makes me mad. And I'm going to fight. Because I'm part of this great party."

Roemer said Democrats should learn from the Republican Party, which has allowed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to play prominent roles. Both of them support abortion rights.

"Republicans have a big tent; why can't we?" he asked.

Other candidates rose to Roemer's defense at the caucus. Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said the party should remember that "George Bush is the enemy."

And former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a 2004 presidential candidate who is also angling for the job, said, "I know something about being a target of other Democrats."

DNC members will pick a successor to outgoing Chairman Terry McAuliffe at a meeting February 12 in Washington, D.C.

The other candidates are: former Rep. Martin Frost of Texas; Simon Rosenberg, head of the centrist New Democratic Network; former Ohio state party chairman David Leland; and Donnie Fowler, a veteran party activist and campaign manager for retired Gen. Wesley Clark's presidential bid.

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