ABORTION: Candidates To Decide How Issue Plays In Major Races
The two most important races in California this year are off and running after last week's primaries, and the candidates are courting voters around the state. As the campaigns heat up, observers say the significance of the abortion issue in the state's gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races will depend in large part on how the candidates choose to play it. "This is really going to depend on the extent to which the candidates try to drive the issue," said Leslie Goodman, president of Sacramento's Strategic Communications Services Inc. and publisher of politicalaccess.com. "But abortion is not the 'intensity issue' that some would like to believe," Goodman said. Pollster Mark DiCamillo of the Los Angeles-based Field Poll said abortion will not be a prominent issue in the state's big races, but he echoed Goodman's "wait-and-see" approach: "It's hard to say right now how much the issue will figure in the campaign," he said, adding, "The experience we've had in the past has been that campaigns can decide which issues will be more salient than others."
On To The General
With the primaries behind them, the candidates are shifting to general election mode, ready to take their campaigns statewide. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) -- an outspokenly pro-choice candidate -- will defend her seat on Capitol Hill against Republican candidate state Treasurer Matt Fong, who has shown pro-life leanings so far in his campaign. Fong got the GOP nod last Tuesday with 45% of his party's vote (22% of the popular vote), edging out car alarm magnate Darrell Issa. Boxer can run on her abortion rights record -- she is one of strongest supporters of abortion rights in the U.S. Senate. She earned a perfect rating from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, voting pro-choice on the seven issues on NARAL's congressional scorecard.
Pretty Much Pro-life
Fong and Issa used Boxer's record to portray her during the primary campaign as a liberal candidate who is "out of step" with California voters. Since he began his campaign, Fong has resisted a "pro-life" or "pro-choice" label, saying neither does "justice" to his position. One campaign staffer said Fong's stance on the issue "can't be described with a hyphenated word." Increasingly, however, Fong comes out closer to pro-life than pro-choice. Fong was adopted when he was six months old by former California Secretary of State March Fong Eu, and says he would encourage mothers who are faced with the decision between abortion and adoption to choose the latter. He says he accepts the legality of first-trimester abortions, but he backs parental consent and opposes "partial-birth" abortions -- two pro-life stances. And he's against federal funding for abortion, his staffer said. Fighting a Supreme Court decision is an uphill battle, Fong says, so he concentrates his efforts on the battles he can win. When parental consent initiatives were introduced in the state, Fong put up $25,000 of his own money to circulate petitions supporting the proposal.
Catering To The Electorate
Fong's feelings on the issue are shaped by more than his unwillingness to go head-to-head against Roe v. Wade, one observer said. With an electorate that is not strongly against abortion, directing the debate to issues like parental consent and partial birth is the safest strategy, said Claremont Graduate University's Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. Goodman agrees: "Fong has taken a reasoned position on abortion, a nuanced position," she said. "It's not a stance that neatly fits into the categories of pro-life or pro-choice." But 70% of the electorate has similar leanings, she said, so Fong's bet may be a smart one. Boxer's classic constituency -- Democratic women -- is likely to stick with her, but the incumbent may find it difficult to attract crossover voters, Goodman said. "The question now is 'Will Boxer push this issue to the top of the list?'" Goodman said. Fong could run into trouble if Democrats try to push him one way or the other, but whether they will is unclear. Tomorrow: The race for governor. (Staff writer Becky Neilson wrote this article).