Although the stated intent to ban abortion is one of the Religious Right’s litmus tests for presidential candidates, the leading Republicans have each been accused of apostasy: Mitt Romney touted his pro-choice convictions as recently as his 2002 campaign, Giuliani’s position continues to come under fire from the Right, and while McCain recently switched his position on Roe v. Wade, he’s still in hot water from anti-abortion groups over campaign finance reform. Even Sam Brownback has had to face reports that he was a Johnny-come-lately to the anti-abortion cause.
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore has been struggling to establish himself as a viable candidate, and his strategy has been to repeatedly claim that he is the only “committed conservative” in the race. So it won’t help that some blogs and LifeNews.com are referring to him as a “pro-abortion” candidate. LifeNews.com’s coverage of Gilmore’s official announcement emphasized that “he backs legalized abortion up to eight weeks into pregnancy”:
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore officially tossed his hat in the ring on Friday, saying he is a full-fledged candidate for the GOP nomination for president in 2008. Gilmore, who trails most of the candidates in the polls, says he’s entering the race because it needs an authentic conservative, but he takes a pro-abortion position.
Indeed, when Gilmore ran for governor, he was seen as an example of Republicans seeking broader appeal by distancing themselves from anti-abortion hardliners. From the New York Times ten years ago:
With Election Day only two weeks away, the race for Virginia governor offers the latest demonstration of a striking shift that many Democrats fear could hurt them in the mid-term elections next year. Though Republicans may not transform abortion into a winning issue, they are trying to neutralize Democrats by narrowing the discussion. Now, Republicans insist there is no danger they would outlaw all abortions — only the one procedure [so-called ‘partial birth abortion’], which they describe in gruesome detail. …
Once again, a Democrat, Lieut. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr., is campaigning to win the governor’s mansion. And once again, he is trying to make abortion an issue. But this time, the Republican nominee, James S. Gilmore 3d, has eagerly joined the debate.
”The truth is, the Supreme Court has spoken,” Mr. Gilmore tells Virginians in a television commercial. ”No one’s going to ban abortions and Don Beyer knows that.”
He goes on to explain his stand in limited, non-threatening terms: ”I won’t ask taxpayers to pay for abortions” and ”I won’t support late-term abortion.”
By steering clear of broader pronouncements against abortion, Republicans are trying to make their message more palatable to more voters.
While the Religious Right bloc is fractured in the presidential race, with some leaders embracing Giuliani and Romney in spite of their pro-choice histories, Gilmore’s own nuanced position on abortion makes it unlikely that he’ll be able to break out of the third tier of candidates by labeling himself the ideological “true conservative.”