c. 2000 Religion News Service

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

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

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

2. So did the Republican strategists.

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

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

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

The typical swing voter is likely to say that he or she is personally opposed to abortion but thinks it is none of the federal government'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 what they call "the base" that they have abandoned conservative principles.

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

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

But what if he had been against abortion rights? He still wouldn't be running, for the simple reason that he never would have been elected governor in the first place. In the Northeast, the anti-abortion vote is minuscule, even on the Republican side. The two anti-abortion-rights candidates in the recent GOP primary for U.S. Senate in New Jersey got a mere 30% of the vote. That translates to less than 15% in a general election.

Almost by definition, any Republican who rises to prominence in the Northeast has to support abortion rights. This gives the Southern party bosses a lock on the nominations. That makes them happy, but for the last two elections the candidates they've pushed have been stuck at the 40% level. In other words, they got essentially none of the swing vote.

A prime reason is that they are pushing a position on abortion so extreme, even they won't defend it. Tuesday night, for example, the ultra-liberal Rep. Nita Lowey of New York told the assembled Democrats: "I won't mince words. This election will determine whether Roe vs. Wade continues to be the law of the land or whether we return to the days of illegal 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 on the abortion rate in this country. Even if he appointed judges who overruled Roe vs. Wade, no state in the union would be likely to outlaw first-trimester abortions, and they make up about 90% of the total.

But Bush is on record as stating the federal government should ban abortion from the moment of conception. To repudiate Lowey, he has to repudiate 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 of economic issues more important to swing voters. Click through, and you'll see that Bush is "pro-life with exceptions for rape, incest and life, and health of the mother." The platform makes no such exceptions.

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

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

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