FORBES: Exit Sends Bush, McCain Courting Antiabortion Vote
Steve Forbes' abrupt exit yesterday from the Republican presidential race "set off a scramble for his endorsement and those of social conservatives who backed his candidacy," the New York Times reports. Both Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) claim they will benefit from Forbes' withdrawal (Berke, New York Times, 2/10). Bush especially hopes to attract Forbes' antiabortion vote in the Feb. 19 South Carolina primary. He said yesterday, "Clearly, in the race now, I'm the conservative candidate versus McCain. I think I have a good chance to pick up a lot of Forbes' support" (West, Baltimore Sun, 2/10). But McCain also said he would gain votes from Forbes' supporters, noting, "We're already hearing from a lot of them that are coming on board" ( Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2/10). According to McCain, two South Carolina antiabortion activists who had worked with Forbes already have thrown their support to his campaign. However, many analysts are predicting that Bush has the "upper hand in the struggle to win over Forbes' supporters, because he was somewhat closer to Forbes on the issues ... [and] has also been more aggressive than McCain in reaching out to social conservatives," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/10). Independent pollster John Zogby said that "for every two Forbes voters Bush gets, McCain will get one," adding that "while Bush ended up winning among very conservative voters in the New Hampshire primary, he had to share a decent chunk of those with Forbes and Alan Keyes." Neal Thigpen, former South Carolina elections commissioner and Florence County chair of the McCain campaign, agreed, explaining, "Most of the county chairmen for the Forbes campaign in South Carolina tend to be religious conservatives and would lean toward Bush more than toward McCain on the right-to-life issue." A senior Forbes campaign official added that Bush would likely secure former Forbes supporters in California and Virginia, and in the March 7 Washington state primary, where "our voters will split evenly, with the libertarians going to McCain and the pro-lifers for Bush." But the campaign official warned that in "South Carolina, a lot of our vote goes to McCain because it's an anti-Bush vote."
Forbes campaign worker Dee Workman Benedict, a South Carolina state board member of the Christian Coalition, revealed that she has not decided yet for whom to vote. "The Christian right in this state is dividing between the two camps. Many of the Forbes-(Alan) Keyes-Gary Bauer supporters are going to Bush because they're terrified of Mr. McCain. They think he's a liberal. Then there is another whole bunch going for McCain, saying, '... Bush can't stand up in a debate with Go re'.Tempers are flaring," she said (Hallow, Washington Times, 2/10). Some groups, like the Republican National Coalition For Life, are refusing to support either candidate. Director Colleen Parro said, "Neither candidate is really pro-life. They both place conditions on whether the right to life should be guaranteed. People are going to have to decide on (the basis of) other issues because there isn't a dime's worth of difference between Bush and McCain" on abortion (Robison, Houston Chronicle, 2/10).
Alan Keyes, meanwhile, used the news of Forbes' withdrawal to cast himself as the only conservative left in the GOP race. He said, "The other candidates in this race are not real conservatives. Maybe that will be brought to bear in time to save us from some of these phonies" (Smolowitz, Charlotte Observer, 2/10).