SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Bob Smith warned Sunday that the GOP will ``fall into the ash bin of history'' if it does not make outlawing abortion its top priority.

The New Hampshire senator cast aside pleas from fellow Republicans who have called for the party to talk about issues other than abortion. In a forceful speech to the California GOP convention, he said he refused to be treated like a ``second-class citizen because we stand up for the (anti-abortion) plank in our party.''

``The bad news, there might be a third party, the worse news, the Republicans might be the third party,'' he said. ``If we're not going to stand up for the life of unborn children, maybe the Republican Party deserves to fall into the ash bin of history ... and it will, if we don't stand up for life.''

Smith's remarks drew repeated ovations from the Republican delegates gathered for their twice-annual state convention. His speech preceded a vote for the new chairman of the party. That election campaign has become a referendum on abortion and has deeply fractured the state party.

One candidate, party Vice Chairman John McGraw, has said banning abortion is his No. 1 mission; his opponent, Nicholas Bavaro, has said he will focus on other issues.

Even some state GOP lawmakers who have carried anti-abortion legislation have urged a party that suffered devastating losses in November _ only two Republicans currently hold statewide office _ to talk about other issues this weekend. But Smith firmly backed McGraw.

``Killing children is the central issue facing our nation today, and it needs to be stopped,'' he said to applause from the delegates. ``I'm for a big tent, but I don't want a tent that's flat on the ground that everybody has to crawl under.''

Minutes before Smith's speech, McGraw, Bavaro and other adversarial leaders in the party stood together at a news conference meant to project unity.

``Moderates and conservatives are going to come together,'' Bavaro said. He and the other party candidates then headed into a convention hall littered with signs for candidates promising party harmony.

``Unity must begin today,'' read a campaign placard for southern vice chairman Dr. Asha Knott.

Second assistant secretary candidate Mike McSweeney's sign offered this to-do list: ``1. Unify party. 2. Win.''

Smith was the seventh presidential aspirant to address the convention. All seven oppose abortion. Some, like Smith, offered fiery defenses of their position. Others, like former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, called for the party to emphasize other issues.

``Instead of laying down litmus tests and rigid pronouncements, reach out to others with whom we agree,'' he urged convention attendees Saturday.

There was one other issue that united Republicans at the gathering: their dislike of President Clinton, a man, Smith said, who ``behaves like an animal.''

Both Smith and former Vice President Dan Quayle drew raucous standing ovations when they praised the House trial managers, who fought to remove Clinton from office following his impeachment. Smith, who voted to oust Clinton, said there was no one he respected more than the trial managers.