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 question. 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
abortion." "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 said. 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 candidate.
"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 presidency. 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 delegates.
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