GOP abortion foes experience renewed sense of power Exits of Wilson, Powell from race raise hopes


DES MOINES, Iowa -- The anti-abortion forces in the Republican Party appear to be enjoying a renewed sense of power and influence as the presidential campaigns of the only three potential candidates favoring abortion rights have either ended or appear to be going nowhere.

As delegates to the Iowa Right to Life Committee gathered yesterday in Des Moines for their annual convention, there was a feeling among them that their movement was in the ascendancy within the party and that their influence on the Iowa presidential caucuses in February would be considerable because of their grass-roots organization.

"If you can organize and bring that many people to a caucus night and decide who your state Republican caucus winner is going to be -- and that is what we have done -- that's a pretty powerful group," said Bob Schockemoehl, the chairman of the Iowa group.

A measure of the group's political muscle could be seen in the fact that while only 70 or so delegates attended yesterday's convention, four presidential candidates addressed them.

Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas and Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative commentator, spoke to the group directly. Lamar Alexander, the former governor of Tennessee, and Alan L. Keyes, a Baltimore radio commentator and former State Department official, spoke to the organization by telephone.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, caught in the budget standoff, promised to speak to the group if he had an opportunity.

Gone from the presidential field is California Gov. Pete Wilson, an abortion rights supporter who dropped out in September. Gone, too, is retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, who had declared his support of abortion rights but who announced Wednesday that he would not run. And nearly gone is Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a strong advocate of abortion rights who is considering ending his debt-ridden campaign.

"What that does say is that those who say the Republican Party is strongly pro-choice on abortion are mistaken," Mr. Buchanan told reporters after addressing the Iowa group, "because all three candidates who are pro-abortion are out of the race or appear to be about to discontinue their campaigns."

Some veterans of the abortion wars say the party's anti-abortion forces dodged a bullet when General Powell decided not to run. Not only would he have provided abortion-rights elements within the party a place to go, but his popularity exposed the possibility that a GOP presidential candidate could avoid being indebted to the forces opposing abortion rights.

With the exits of Mr. Wilson and General Powell, and the near-death of the Specter campaign, what remains is a debate among the remaining GOP candidates over who is stronger in his stand.

Thus, in his remarks to the group, Mr. Buchanan declared that his choice for running mate would be an abortion opponent, and he criticized Mr. Dole, the current front-runner, for suggesting a possible vice-presidential slot for General Powell.

For his part, Mr. Gramm said he was "disappointed" that Mr. Dole had taken a bill off the Senate floor that would have banned a rare form of late-term abortion. In fact, the Senate voted to send the bill to committee.

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