'Rogue elephant from Texas' Abortion: Texas GOP convention controlled by religious right, challenges Dole.

June 25, 1996

IS SAN DIEGO to be another Houston? Republican leaders have good reason to fear following the takeover of the GOP state convention in Texas by religious conservatives. Of the 123 delegates chosen, as many as 90 are pledged to a no-exceptions anti-abortion plank and to the nomination of a pro-life running mate on Bob Dole's national ticket. "There is a rogue elephant from Texas that means business," proclaimed a Dallas pro-lifer.

If this trend becomes a tidal wave, it could turn the Republican National Convention in San Diego next August into a repeat of the moralistic convention in Houston four years ago that contributed to George Bush's defeat.

What happened in Texas was a direct challenge to Mr. Dole. When he left the Senate a fortnight ago, he insisted that a "declaration of tolerance" be placed directly in the plank dealing with abortion rather than in the preamble. "It's not negotiable," he declared.

But as 6,000 Texans were gathering in San Antonio, the presidential candidate huddled with Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the GOP platform committee, to work through the abortion issue. He failed. "We haven't decided precisely now how it's going to be," he said. What has to concern the Kansas Republican is that he might lose control of the national convention just as his followers lost control in Texas.

Any platform and/or any vice presidential candidate unacceptable to the religious right could be subjected to a challenge from the floor in San Diego. While the Christian Coalition hopes to control 70 to 80 percent of the delegates, a University of Texas poll suggests that, even in that conservative state, abortion rights are favored by a majority of 52 to 37 percent.

Self-immolation of the Republican Party on the abortion issue, if that is to be its fate, comes at a time when the GOP could be capitalizing on President Clinton's embarrassment over the White House mishandling of FBI personal files and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's reported "conversations" with the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt. Instead, the GOP remains distracted, divided and distraught over a question that clearly threatens its chances in November.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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