WASHINGTON -- The abortion issue, promoted as never before as a crucial question for America's mainstream voters, turned into a political puzzle of deep complexity as the ballots were counted yesterday.
Two public officeholders who were special favorites of one side or the other in the abortion controversy were thrown out of office or seemed close to defeat, and their stands on the subject seemed to be a contributing if not the decisive factor.
One who clearly did not survive after being targeted for defeat by the other side was Florida's Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, TC fervent abortion foe who could not get the legislature to pass restrictive bills he wanted. Michigan's Democratic Gov. James Blanchard, who kept anti-abortion activists stirred up by repeated vetoes of restrictive bills, was trailing and seemed in considerable danger as returns came in.
Governor Martinez lost to former Democratic Sen. Lawton Chiles after a campaign in which pressure groups had made more of the issue than the candidates did. Governor Blanchard was lagging behind state senate GOP leader John Engler even though the state's respected former Republican first lady, Helen Milliken, endorsed Mr. Blanchard.
Showing further how the issue's impact would defy simple explanation, the politician who is the undoubted emotional leader and the sometime tactical captain of anti-abortion forces -- Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina -- could not be kept from a new term. He will return despite a very heavy assault from the other side on the issue.
In a race between two Catholics, Democrat David Walker, who supports abortion rights, won the Oklahoma governorship over GOP abortion foe, Rep. Bill Price.
There was no way to link the outcomes with being a Democrat or Republican, an incumbent or a challenger.
Two Democrats breaking ranks with their party's abortion rights position won -- one a clear surprise. Kansas state treasurer Joan Finney, a hard-line abortion foe, surprisingly ousted Republican Gov. Mike Hayden, a fairly recent convert to the abortion rights side. As expected, incumbent Gov. Robert P. Casey Jr., of Pennsylvania, an unabashed abortion foe, breezed to re-election over state auditor general Barbara Hafer, a Republican strongly favoring abortion rights.
Across the nation, polls of voters leaving the booths indicated that abortion was much on their minds, and for many was as important, or nearly as important, as taxes and economic uncertainty.
In Oregon, two anti-abortion proposals put directly to the voters were rejected. In Nevada, voters ordered the legislature not to put new restrictions on abortion without giving the voters a chance to veto them.
In the one congressional district race in which abortion was the dominant issue, Virginia Democratic challenger James P. Moran, Jr., Alexandria's mayor and a vigorous supporter of abortion rights, handily defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Stan Parris, a sturdy foe of abortion.
In Iowa, where the Senate race was one of the nation's most clear-cut contests on the question, voters who favor abortion rights may well have made the difference in the re-election of Democratic Sen. Thomas Harkin over Republican challenger Thomas Tauke, who is considered an abortion foe.