With the razor-thin Supreme Court decision in Stenberg v. Carhart protecting abortion rights, the abortion issue is becoming increasingly critical to the presidential race and the selection of Vice Presidential candidates, especially in Bush’s selection of a running mate.
The New York Times calls this “the first presidential campaign in which the Republican candidate truly appears to be weighing whether to pick a No. 2 who supports abortion rights.” Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania has been high up in the running, although conservative Bush supporters are undermining his candidacy because of his pro-choice stance. The New York Times noted that “several advisors to Mr. Bush said…that Mr. Ridge would be at the top of the list were it not for his stand on abortion.” But a recent survey by the Associated Press suggests that delegates to the upcoming GOP convention are more concerned with electing Bush than electing his running mate, and if a pro-choice VP would make Bush more palatable to moderate voters, they would support such a candidate. Almost half those surveyed said they “could support” a pro-choice VP candidate, and the top pick out of all those in the running was Ridge.
Senior Republican advisors have suggested that Bush is not seriously considering a pro-choice running mate, but has led the public to believe so as a strategy to “placate” abortion rights advocates. Bush advisors fear that choosing Ridge would anger the Catholic church, as he is Catholic but pro-choice and has had problems with the church in his state. They also fear that Ridge has “become too closely identified with the abortion issue.” Many Republican political experts and Bush supporters are stressing the need to nominate a strongly anti-choice VP, in line with the Party’s stance.
The attention on Ridge as a pro-choice candidate is ironic given his recent “D” grade from NARAL, which issued a comprehensive report on the voting records of all vice presidential hopefuls. Ridge was evaluated as “disappointing;” NARAL highlighted his statements that abortion should only be legal in the first trimester, and only in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman is endangered.
The extremely anti-choice Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma, the Washington Post argues, has a strong chance of winning the VP candidate seat, given his anti-choice stance and long record of political positions. He is a “pro-business” Republican who has supported proposed Oklahoma legislation that would strip union power, and was appointed to various federal positions under Reagan and Bush. NARAL gave him an “F” on abortion-related issues. Bush’s prospective running mates also include the anti-choice candidates Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Fred Thompson of Tennessee, both of whom received “F”s from NARAL.
In related news, three polls released over the weekend revealed that Gore is closing the gap on Bush. A CBS News Survey says Gore garnered 41 percent support, with Bush leading at 43. A USA Today/CNN Gallup poll says Bush leads Gore 45 to 43, down from 50 to 41 a week ago.