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Avenson Wins Democratic Nomination to Oppose Branstad

June 6, 1990

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ House Speaker Don Avenson rode a pro-choice abortion campaign to the Democratic nomination for governor, foreshadowing a general election debate on abortion with Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.

″You have nominated yourself a tiger, a tiger for the ordinary people,″ Avenson told cheering supporters as he claimed victory in Tuesday’s primary.

Avenson outdistanced an anti-abortion Democrat, Attorney General Tom Miller, and another pro-choice candidate, former banker John Chrystal. Avenson was strongly supported by pro-choice groups.

With 99 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, Avenson had 78,767 votes, or 39 percent, to Miller’s 63,129, or 32 percent, and Chrystal’s 52,031, or 26 percent. Two minor candidates split the remainder.

Chrystal said the pro-choice groups, particularly the National Abortion Rights Action League, had made the difference for Avenson. ″NARAL’s endorsement really brought votes to Avenson,″ Chrystal said.

Branstad opposes abortion and faced no primary contest.

Avenson said he will turn immediately to the uphill fight in November. He conceded that Branstad has a huge financial edge. Branstad has raised more than $2.5 million, while Avenson is essentially broke. He said he has pledges for $65,000 to begin the fight.

Branstad responded to the primary results by sounding a theme likely to be repeated this fall - that Avenson had won with the help of a ″typical special-interest type of support.″

Miller urged his backers to unite behind Avenson, and all three Democratic candidates called for party unity.

″Put the primary behind us - it’s over,″ Miller said. ″I’ll do anything I can to help win this campaign, to win the governor’s race. This is the end of one campaign but the beginning of another.″

Shelley Bain, of the Iowa NARAL affiliate, said voters will now have a choice over abortion policy in the November governor’s race. Still, she insisted that other issues had played a role in Avenson’s victory.

Abortion, she said, ″was important, but it wasn’t everything.″

Abortion foes discounted the election, saying Miller waffled on the issue and didn’t make a strong appeal.

″Tom Miller was really, at best, a weak candidate from the pro-life standpoint,″ said Mona Smit of the Iowa Right to Life Committee. ″Our position is NARAL didn’t beat Miller, Tom Miller beat Tom Miller.″

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