July 8, 2007 in Nation/World

GOP activists concerned about report on Thompson

Janet Hook Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – Republican political activists said Saturday that reports that Fred Thompson lobbied to ease a controversial abortion restriction have cast a shadow on his effort to persuade social conservatives – a key constituency in his emerging bid for the White House – that he is an unwavering opponent of abortion.

While some Republican activists urged caution in evaluating Thompson’s record, others said it was damaging to have new questions raised about his position on a litmus test issue for many social conservatives.

“That would not be helpful,” said Paul Weyrich, a conservative leader who has not endorsed any presidential candidate.

Evidence that Thompson worked for a family planning group as part of his little-known portfolio as a lobbyist underscores how much the public has yet to learn about the former senator, who is best known as a movie actor and for playing a district attorney on the popular television show “Law & Order.”

Responding to the report in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times – which was denied flatly by Thompson’s spokesman but backed by records and several people associated with the issue – some conservatives said that it adds to anxieties. The GOP has been unwavering in its opposition to abortion dating back at least to Ronald Reagan, but the positions of its presidential front-runners appear to be less unequivocal.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani supports abortion rights. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is a recent convert to opposing abortion rights. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., opposes abortion, but has never made that a central issue in his political and legislative career.

“With all the people who keep changing their minds on abortion, that’s got to be unsettling,” said Weyrich.

The result is a debate about abortion among Republicans that is lacking one thing that activists on both sides of the issue long for: certainty.

“People want to see clarity and consistency on this issue,” said Ted Miller, spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America, a group that supports abortion rights.

A big question for Thompson, who is expected formally to announce his candidacy in the next week or two, is whether this revelation could begin to disillusion Republicans who have seen him as a white knight who will rescue the party from having to chose among candidates unpalatable to conservatives.

“This will hurt, particularly because conservatives have been dying for a champion to be in the arena for them,” said David Carney, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist who is not aligned with any candidate. “A lot hoped he was the guy. … People who really believe in the pro-life cause will not be happy.”

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