c. 2000 Religion News Service

If you've been watching the conventions, you probablynoticed a pattern emerging on the issue of abortion. The Republicansbarely mentioned it. The Democrats can't shut up about it.

Take that fact and add to it the observation that conventions aretotally scripted these days and no word is uttered that is not designedto increase the party's chances in November. From this, you can concludetwo things:

1. Democratic strategists looked at the polling data and concludedthat the swing voters -- the 20% of people in the middle who willdecide this election -- support legal abortion.

2. So did the Republican strategists.

Democrats therefore want to make abortion as big an issue aspossible before the public. Republicans want to keep abortion out of theheadlines while also using it to get the votes of ardent opponents oflegal abortion.

This gives Democrats an advantage, one they are nicely exploiting.When Republicans mention abortion, they energize their bases butalienate the swing voters. But when Democrats hammer home their supportfor a woman's right to choose, they energize their base and pick upswing votes as well.

There are many Republicans who insist swing voters are againstabortion rights. Nonsense. If they were against legal abortion, theywouldn't be swing voters. They'd be Republicans.

The typical swing voter is likely to say that he or she ispersonally opposed to abortion but thinks it is none of the federalgovernment's business. This is actually a solid conservative position.No true conservative would argue for making abortion a federal crime.But the guys running the GOP these days are so busy pandering to whatthey call "the base" that they have abandoned conservative principles.

I used to think these guys took this position because of their moralpurity. I have wised up. This is a scam. It is a device employed by theSouthern wing of the party to ensure it gets to decide who can run onthe national ticket.

There are several strong Republican governors from the Northeast whowould have made excellent national candidates, such as George Pataki,who would have brought along all those wonderful New York electoralvotes that George W. Bush is unlikely to be getting. But because hesupports abortion rights, he was precluded from running.

But what if he had been against abortion rights? He still wouldn'tbe running, for the simple reason that he never would have been electedgovernor in the first place. In the Northeast, the anti-abortion vote isminuscule, even on the Republican side. The two anti-abortion-rightscandidates in the recent GOP primary for U.S. Senate in New Jersey got amere 30% of the vote. That translates to less than 15% ina general election.

Almost by definition, any Republican who rises to prominence in theNortheast has to support abortion rights. This gives the Southern partybosses a lock on the nominations. That makes them happy, but for thelast two elections the candidates they've pushed have been stuck at the40% level. In other words, they got essentially none of the swingvote.

A prime reason is that they are pushing a position on abortion soextreme, even they won't defend it. Tuesday night, for example, theultra-liberal Rep. Nita Lowey of New York told the assembled Democrats:"I won't mince words. This election will determine whether Roe vs. Wadecontinues to be the law of the land or whether we return to the days ofillegal back-alley abortions."

This is total nonsense, yet Republicans have no defense against it.In truth, a President George W. Bush would have little or no effect onthe abortion rate in this country. Even if he appointed judges whooverruled Roe vs. Wade, no state in the union would be likely to outlawfirst-trimester abortions, and they make up about 90% of thetotal.

But Bush is on record as stating the federal government should banabortion from the moment of conception. To repudiate Lowey, he has torepudiate his own platform.

He'll be doing that soon anyway. In fact, his website already does.If you look up "Issues," you'll see abortion buried under any number ofeconomic issues more important to swing voters. Click through, andyou'll see that Bush is "pro-life with exceptions for rape, incest andlife, and health of the mother." The platform makes no such exceptions.

The site goes on to explain in detail: "Supports parentalnotification, banning use of taxpayer funds for abortion, and banningpartial-birth abortion." An obvious question: Why does Bush need tostate that he opposes the late-term abortion procedure opponents callpartial-birth abortion if he in fact opposes all abortion?

An obvious answer: Because he wants to win the election.