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Dole’s Gesture to Abortion-Rights Voters Taken in Stride

June 20, 1996

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Activists from the largest anti-abortion group gave Bob Dole a timely show of sympathy Thursday in his search for accommodation on GOP abortion policy. ``It’s a matter of pragmatism,″ one said.

Leaders of the National Right to Life Committee were confident the Republican platform will remain soundly anti-abortion and said Dole’s push for a ``statement of tolerance″ recognizing disagreement on the issue is not the main measure of his abortion views.

``Really, if you look at this in context, it’s a statement that everyone knows reflects reality,″ David O’Steen, the group’s executive director, said before the organization opened its annual meeting outside Washington.

Opinion was divided among the hundreds of activists gathered from around the country over whether Dole’s platform struggle is arcane or crucial.

Some still searched for the answer and said that once they find it, it could affect how hard they work their phone banks, their armies of leaflet distributors and their county-fair information booths on Dole’s behalf.

``We’re going to drop back 10 (yards) and see what we’re going to do,″ said James McIntyre, chapter leader in Louisville, Ky. ``Obviously, it’s not going to be to endorse Clinton.″

McIntyre said Dole’s effort to reach out to abortion-rights supporters was an understandable ``matter of pragmatism.″ But not everyone liked it.

``I think he believes he has the pro-life vote sewn up and I think he’s compromising,″ Lynda Blais, head of the Ventura County chapter of the California Pro-Life Council, said of Dole. ``I think this damages him.″

Still, Dauneen Dolce, national board member from Albuquerque, N.M., said that when anti-abortion activists realize they can’t have the perfect candidate, they’ll decide ``the main thing is to get Bob Dole elected″ and pull out the stops.

In any case, she added, ``Where else are we gonna go?″

Accommodation was in scant supply Thursday at a convention of Texas Republicans in San Antonio, where the mention of Dole and home-state Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison drew boos.

``A lot of Bob Dole’s luster has come off,″ said delegate Jack Sugrue. ``There can be no retreat on this issue. He’s completely ignoring the victories in 1994 of pro-life incumbents.″

Anti-abortion forces in the state are hoping to deny Hutchison, who supports abortion rights, a position as an at-large delegate to the national GOP convention. In addition, the state GOP platform committee on Thursday voted to recommend toughening the Texas anti-abortion plank by removing an exception for abortions when the life of the mother is in danger.

``The message in Texas is there won’t be any tolerance,″ said James Wright, a member of the platform committee.

Gov. George W. Bush said he believes the party will emerge united from the convention no matter how heated the debate gets on abortion.

``Once the convention is over, Republicans will focus on those things that will bring us together and we will work hard to get Bob Dole elected,″ he said.

The placement of Dole’s proposed tolerance language has been of keen importance to social conservatives, many of whom protested bitterly last week when Dole said the statement would be targeted specifically at the anti-abortion plank rather than the GOP platform more generally.

But O’Steen, while saying he preferred to keep the tolerance language out of the plank, sounded almost dismissive. ``The question now is whether the sentence ... (is) going to be in the first, 30th or 300th paragraph,″ he said.

``His own position, I think, is a more important thing to voters than what paragraph the statement’s in,″ O’Steen said of Dole.

O’Steen was less compromising about Dole’s vice-presidential pick, however, saying any running mate who favors abortion rights ``would hurt very much his volunteer base.″

Dole had a solid voting record against abortion rights in the Senate and favors a ban on all abortions except in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the woman is in danger.

But he has said he would not rule out abortion-rights Republicans for his ticket and often addresses the issue with discomfort, leaving some activists nervous about his commitment to the cause.

The issue intruded during a campaign visit to Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday when, during a round of handshaking, a woman advised Dole to ``quit waffling″ on abortion.

Jeanne Ensley said she felt Dole might weaken the Republican platform on abortion.

``That’s sad, that’s scary,″ she said later. ``He changes his mind depending on the weather? I may not vote for him. I won’t vote for Clinton either.″

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