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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Stealth Anti-Abortion Candidate

Time‘s Amy Sullivan has an important article out that illustrates a very specific challenge for the Obama campaign and its supporters: informing pro-choice women that John McCain’s position on the right to choose is one of lock-step agreement with anti-abortion extremists, up to and including constitutional amendments to overturn Roe v. Wade and then to ban virtually all abortions.
She highlights a new poll from NARAL Pro-Choice America:

The NARAL survey found that when pro-choice women are told that McCain believes the Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned, their support for him drops substantially. Among pro-choice independent women, who are already more inclined to back Obama, information about the two candidates’ abortion positions improves Obama’s edge from 53-35 to 66-26, for a net gain of 22 percentage points. Even pro-choice Republican women shift their support after hearing about McCain’s opposition to Roe: 76% initially say they will vote for McCain in November, but that number drops to 63%.

Sullivan explains that holding hard-core anti-abortion views while encouraging the impression of “moderation” on the subject is an old game for GOP presidential candidates, including George W. Bush. One big factor in this game has been the under-the-radar-screen, dog-whistle manner in which Republicans have reassured their culturally conservative base, in contrast to Democrats:

In essence, while the G.O.P. has largely tried to keep its base quietly comforted, Democrats have seemed compelled to make public shows of allegiance to pro-choice activists. The result is that pro-choice voters hear little from Republican candidates to upset them, even as pro-life voters have their differences with the Democratic Party’s abortion stance highlighted for all to see. Not surprisingly, the two approaches show up at the ballot box: in 2000, 38% of Bush’s voters were pro-choice while only 22% of Gore’s were pro-life. Those percentages closed in 2004, but only slightly.

Amy clearly thinks Democrats would be wise to supplement their pro-choice commitments with policy initiatives aimed at reducing abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies, a position identified with Hillary Clinton but not so much with Barack Obama. But in any event, McCain should not be allowed to become yet another stealth anti-abortion candidate who succeeds in having it both ways on this most emotional issue.

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