September 9, 1995 in Nation/World

Gramm Throws Dole To Christians Texan Sets Up Majority Leader For Fall On Abortion At Coalition’s Convention

Michael Kranish Boston Globe
 

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, facing taunts Friday from dozens of Sen. Phil Gramm supporters at a Christian Coalition convention, refuse to sign a strict anti-abortion pledge that Gramm is trying to turn into a major campaign issue.

Dole seemed stunned at first when dozens of people at the convention greeted his appearance by shouting, “Sign the pledge! Sign the pledge!”

Dole at first ignored the shouts and cited his anti-abortion voting record. But when the Gramm supporters continued to shout in protest and wave copies of the pledge, Dole fired back.

“Don’t look at pledges,” Dole said, sounding upset but stopping short of losing his temper. “Look at the record.”

Dole’s retort was what Gramm’s campaign had hoped for - underscoring Dole’s view on abortion and reminding some of when Dole got angry with George Bush during the 1988 campaign and said, “Stop lying about my record.” A Gramm aide acknowledged the campaign had arranged the protest, which Gramm himself had urged during his earlier appearance.

“Bob Dole has not signed the pledge,” said Gramm, of Texas. “While he is here, I want you to ask him to join us.”

Dole’s spokesman, Nelson Warfield, accused Gramm of cynically using the emotional issue of abortion for political gain and said, “We don’t believe running for president requires responding to Sen. Gramm’s ploy-du-jour.

“Five months ago, you almost couldn’t get Phil Gramm to say the word abortion,” Warfield said. “In fact, he proclaimed ‘I’m not running for preacher.’ His campaign has languished and now he’s trying to exploit abortion.”

Dole, unlike Gramm, says abortion should be allowed in cases of rape and incest. Many members of the Christian Coalition do not favor abortion in any circumstance or only when the life of the mother is at stake.

Gramm and four other candidates have signed the pledge: Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, talk show host Alan Keyes, commentator Patrick Buchanan and Rep. Robert Dornan of California.

Dole’s strategists have said the Kansas senator has refused to sign the pledge partly because he does not want to alienate potential supporters he will need in the general election.

But the Republican National Coalition for Life, which put out the “pro-life pledge,” has said Dole’s refusal to sign is reminiscent of the way the Kansan ran into trouble over refusing to sign an anti-tax pledge during the 1988 New Hampshire primary.

The “pro-life pledge” says the candidate will uphold the Republican platform against abortion and work for the election of politicians who affirm the rights of “the unborn child.”

Dole’s dilemma is that he needs the support of Christian Coalition activists, since he is less popular with them than with the Republican electorate.

That partly explains why Gramm tied Dole in the Iowa straw poll. Gramm has won over some activist GOP members with his tougher anti-abortion stand.

An internal coalition poll underscored Dole’s predicament. It found support nearly evenly divided among Dole, Gramm and Buchanan. And an unscientific sampling of members Friday found that no candidate seemed the favorite, with many members saying they felt closest to Buchanan and Keyes but wondered whether either could win.

George Fellendorf, the chairman of New Hampshire’s Christian Coalition chapter and a potential key political player in the first-primary state, was enthralled by Gramm.

“Did you see Gramm hold up the pledge?” he said. Later, Fellendorf said, “A lot of people would have liked it if Dole signed the pledge,” but he added that voting records were important, too.


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