Dole's defiance of the religious right Abortion issue: GOP candidate should select a pro-choice running mate.

July 03, 1996

BOB DOLE's assertion that he might select a pro-choice vice presidential nominee has predictably angered social conservatives who threaten to make a shambles of the #i Republican National Convention in San Diego. But having raised this prospect, the GOP presidential contender should follow through -- and do it.

There is an old saying that Republicans don't elect Republican presidents: Democrats and independents do. To defeat President Clinton, Mr. Dole has to drive relentlessly toward the political center, as Mr. Clinton is doing from the opposite direction. Rightwingers in the GOP and leftwingers among the Democrats may fulminate, but the center is where the voters are and where they want to stay.

The genius of this huge and varied country is its instinctive search for accommodation, consensus and good sense. In election after election, voters respond to this urge. The religious right, reflecting deeply held views that must be respected, has been noisily adamant in opposing abortion -- often with no exceptions. But those who believe in abortion in circumstances approved by the Supreme Court are equally worthy of respect.

A Wall Street Journal poll of swing voters (the 25 percent who decide elections) shows that two-thirds are pro-choice -- more than for the electorate as a whole. If Mr. Dole, who is personally against abortion except in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the life of the mother, should select a pro-choice running mate, he would be holding true to his impulse for political balance.

There is a two-edged danger in his raising the emotional abortion issue that will divide his party during platform debate, where he wants a "declaration of tolerance" in the abortion plank, and then in selecting a vice presidential candidate. No matter what the outcome, there will be legions of the disappointed.

At least Mr. Dole is not ducking ultimate responsibility. "I am the nominee," he said this week. "I need to make the choice and . . . we also need to win the election." To win, Mr. Dole has to defy those who want to make the Republican Party a preserve for the like-minded minority on the religious right.

So we encourage Mr. Dole to continue on his course toward moderation even at the cost of upset and outrage in August. For what matters is the end result in November.

Pub Date: 7/03/96

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