ABORTION: Candidates To Decide How Issue Plays In Major Races
As the gubernatorial campaigns heat up, observers say the significance of the abortion issue in the race will depend in large part on how the candidates choose to play it. Claremont Graduate University's Sherry Bebitch Jeffe notes that abortion could figure prominently. The GOP candidate, state Attorney General Dan Lungren, is pro-life, and Jeffe said he has "taken great pains to couch the issue in religious terms." The results of California elections often fall to "swing voters," many of whom are Catholic or "ethnic Catholic" voters, said Leslie Goodman, president of Sacramento-based Strategic Communications Services Inc. But Lungren is running in the footsteps of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who is pro-choice, and Jeffe said it will be difficult for a pro-life GOP candidate to win over California voters. Observers say the issue's importance in the race rests on how hard the candidates push to get it on the public's agenda. "What they do with their paid media, their ads, what they say in their speeches -- that's what will determine how this plays," Goodman said. She said Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, the Democrat who will face Lungren in November, wants to make abortion an issue, and his pro-choice platform stands in stark contrast to Lungren's. On his campaign Website, Davis plugs his record on women's issues, pointing to his support of the state law that became the model for the federal Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances Act.
Wait And See
Proponents of both sides will have to wait until the campaign heats up before they know how the abortion issue plays in California. However, just two days after securing their party's nominations, Lungren and Davis tangled over abortion rights, a signal that they may be preparing to make it a major issue in the campaign. Davis got NARAL's backing last Thursday, with the pro-choice group calling Lungren "a very serious threat" to reproductive rights. "Democrats will take great pains to define Republicans on the 'wrong' side of the choice issue," Jeffe said. But Goodman said it is unrealistic to think the abortion issue will decide the race, noting that the economy and education seem to be pushing ahead as two of the top issues in the fall elections. "The conventional wisdom that you can win on being pro-life or pro-choice detracts from the debate that's going on," she said. [Note: Staff writer Becky Neilson wrote this article].