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 they
could support such a vice-presidential nominee who backs legalized abortion.
One out of every five delegates, or 22%, said they could not back
such a candidate for Bush, who opposes the procedure. About 15% said
they did not know, and nearly as many delegates did not respond to the
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who supports abortion-rights, was the top vice-presidential pick among Republican delegates, while former presidential
candidate Elizabeth Dole, who opposes abortion, trailed him by a handful of
votes. Ohio Rep. John Kasich, retired Gen. Colin Powell, and former Bush
opponent Sen. John McCain rounded out the top five.
Hamp Atkins, a Republican delegate from Rock Hill, S.C., said he would like
to see Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating as the next vice president, in part
because of his anti-abortion stance. But, Atkins said he would support
whomever Bush picks as his running mate--even if that person backs the right
to have an abortion.
"I would support the ticket even if it had Christie Todd Whitman," said
Atkins, referring to the New Jersey governor who angered many in her party
by vetoing legislation to outlaw a procedure critics call "partial-birth
"Delegates who are practical realize that the number one priority is to
win, and if people do not support the GOP ticket, you cannot win," Atkins
Even staunch anti-abortion delegates may be willing to throw their support
behind an abortion-rights nominee if it means getting their candidate
elected, said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
"I think a lot of Republicans figure, well, there's a pro-life president
and he seems pretty committed. It wouldn't be disaster if there was a
pro-choice person if that person could help elect George W. Bush
president," Rothenberg said. "I think that's the way delegates are
thinking--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 it
wouldn't affect their support of the Texas governor if he picks an
abortion-rights running mate. About a third said it would make them less
likely to support him, and fewer than one in six said it would make them
more 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 an
abortion-rights candidate would not cause Bush major political problems.
Many Republicans with strong social-conservative roots across the country
agree with the assessment. David Beasley, the former governor of South
Carolina, said Ridge would make an "excellent" vice-presidential
"George Bush is pro-life, and that is the most significant thing," Beasley
said. "Tom Ridge would be a loyal soldier to his president. He is not an
in-your-face pro-choice Republican. He would be acceptable."
Ridge is on Bush's list of running-mate prospects, and his political team is
prepared to explain the choice to anti-abortion advocates in the event he
selects the Pennsylvania governor. Another abortion-rights governor, George
Pataki of New York, met privately with Bush last week to discuss the vice
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-presidential
pick among 7% of the delegates, while Dole was the choice of 6.7%. Kasich received 5.2%, Powell got 5%, and John McCain
3.2%. 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 Al
Gore, the likely nominee, both tallying 3.5%. Former Gore rival Bill
Bradley 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 the
same for Republican and Democratic delegates alike: nobody in particular.
Nearly 13% of the GOP delegates contacted said they had no one in
mind or were undecided. For Democrats, 31.5% of the delegates fell
into the same category.
Democratic delegate Linda Stoval of Casper, Wyo., said she felt she lacked
enough information about the potential candidates to pick a favorite.
"I've certainly heard the names, but I don't know whether I would like them
or not," she said.
The AP questionnaire was based on interviews with 1,767 out of 2,066
Republican convention delegates and 3,382 out of 4,338 Democratic convention