WASHINGTON, July 18 (AP)--Half the delegates to the Republican National Convention are giving George W. Bush their blessing to tap an abortion-rights supporter as his running mate, according to interviews by The Associated Press. The AP questionnaire found that 49% of the GOP delegates said theycould support such a vice-presidential nominee who backs legalized abortion.One out of every five delegates, or 22%, said they could not backsuch a candidate for Bush, who opposes the procedure. About 15% saidthey did not know, and nearly as many delegates did not respond to thequestion. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who supports abortion-rights, was the top vice-presidential pick among Republican delegates, while former presidentialcandidate Elizabeth Dole, who opposes abortion, trailed him by a handful ofvotes. Ohio Rep. John Kasich, retired Gen. Colin Powell, and former Bushopponent Sen. John McCain rounded out the top five. Hamp Atkins, a Republican delegate from Rock Hill, S.C., said he would liketo see Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating as the next vice president, in partbecause of his anti-abortion stance. But, Atkins said he would supportwhomever Bush picks as his running mate--even if that person backs the rightto have an abortion. "I would support the ticket even if it had Christie Todd Whitman," saidAtkins, referring to the New Jersey governor who angered many in her partyby vetoing legislation to outlaw a procedure critics call "partial-birthabortion." "Delegates who are practical realize that the number one priority is towin, and if people do not support the GOP ticket, you cannot win," Atkinssaid.
Even staunch anti-abortion delegates may be willing to throw their supportbehind an abortion-rights nominee if it means getting their candidateelected, said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. "I think a lot of Republicans figure, well, there's a pro-life presidentand he seems pretty committed. It wouldn't be disaster if there was apro-choice person if that person could help elect George W. Bushpresident," Rothenberg said. "I think that's the way delegates arethinking--they're thinking in terms of how can we elect George W. Bush."A CBS News poll released Monday found that half of Bush supporters said itwouldn't affect their support of the Texas governor if he picks anabortion-rights running mate. About a third said it would make them lesslikely to support him, and fewer than one in six said it would make themmore likely to support him. Senior advisers to Bush, who would be responsible for selling his vice-presidential pick to the Republican faithful, say they are convinced that anabortion-rights candidate would not cause Bush major political problems. Many Republicans with strong social-conservative roots across the countryagree with the assessment. David Beasley, the former governor of SouthCarolina, said Ridge would make an "excellent" vice-presidentialcandidate. "George Bush is pro-life, and that is the most significant thing," Beasleysaid. "Tom Ridge would be a loyal soldier to his president. He is not anin-your-face pro-choice Republican. He would be acceptable." Ridge is on Bush's list of running-mate prospects, and his political team isprepared to explain the choice to anti-abortion advocates in the event heselects the Pennsylvania governor.
Another abortion-rights governor, GeorgePataki of New York, met privately with Bush last week to discuss the vicepresidency. If Bush decides to play it safe, senior Republicans say Oklahoma Gov.Keating could get the nod for his anti-abortion views. According to AP delegates interviews, Ridge was the top vice-presidentialpick among 7% of the delegates, while Dole was the choice of 6.7%. Kasich received 5.2%, Powell got 5%, and John McCain3.2%. Nearly 30% of the delegates had other preferences--including various combinations of the contenders. Among Democratic delegates, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh was edging out Sen.Dianne Feinstein of California to share the ticket with Vice President AlGore, the likely nominee, both tallying 3.5%. Former Gore rival BillBradley and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson each received 3.1%.Twenty-eight percent had other choices. The most common response when asked their choice for vice president was thesame for Republican and Democratic delegates alike: nobody in particular. Nearly 13% of the GOP delegates contacted said they had no one inmind or were undecided. For Democrats, 31.5% of the delegates fellinto the same category. Democratic delegate Linda Stoval of Casper, Wyo., said she felt she lackedenough information about the potential candidates to pick a favorite. "I've certainly heard the names, but I don't know whether I would like themor not," she said. The AP questionnaire was based on interviews with 1,767 out of 2,066Republican convention delegates and 3,382 out of 4,338 Democratic conventiondelegates