- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 1999

Sen. John McCain, polling a distant second in the key Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, will spend the next eight weeks trying to convince pro-life voters that he is still committed to their cause.
"We need to fill in the gaps," said McCain campaign spokesman Dan Schnur. "One of our challenges over the next several weeks is to establish John McCain's pro-life voting record in the minds of South Carolina voters."
Mr. McCain told a newspaper's editorial board last summer that he would not support overturning the Supreme Court decision that allows legal abortions, "in the short term or even the long term." He also has angered pro-life groups with his effort to ban "soft money" often used by such organizations for issue advocacy in political campaigns.
"There are a lot of reasons why pro-life voters in South Carolina should be skeptical of John McCain, including his recent statements on Roe v. Wade," Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the Washington-based National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), said of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. "We have multiple problems and concerns with McCain. We're constantly disseminating that information."
Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and a consultant to Republican front-runner George W. Bush's campaign, said pro-life constituents accounted for 40 percent to 45 percent of the vote in South Carolina's Republican primary in 1996.
"It's going to have a huge impact," Mr. Reed said. "If you're losing that constituency three-, four-or five-to-one, it's very difficult to win that primary."
Mr. McCain's strategy is to win New Hampshire on Feb. 1 and South Carolina Feb. 19 to give him momentum heading into big-state primaries like California and New York in March. But the last independent poll in South Carolina showed Mr. Bush leading Mr. McCain, 62 percent to 15 percent. Mr. McCain has been leading Mr. Bush in most polls in New Hampshire, but trails him in national surveys.
Mr. Reed said Mr. McCain's "secular-style" campaign and his $506 billion tobacco legislation last year are not good omens for him in early Southern primary states like South Carolina and Georgia.
"When you head South, you're talking about two things tobacco farmers and evangelicals," Mr. Reed said. "He's not high on the Christmas card list of either group."
But Cyndi Mosteller, president of South Carolina Citizens for Life, the NRLC affiliate, is supporting Mr. McCain and said "he certainly meets my conservative requirements."
Mrs. Mosteller said Mr. McCain "recognizes that he misspoke" about his stand on the Roe vs. Wade ruling and that her national organization is clouding the candidate's pro-life record with campaign-finance reform.
"I hope I'm not going to be excommunicated for my stand," she said. "They're meshing wrongly his stand on campaign-finance reform with his solid pro-life position."
Mr. Schnur said there is a "big difference" between the leaders of national conservative lobbies and grass-roots conservatives on the issue of campaign-finance regulations.
"These are the voters who fueled the Republican revolution in 1994," Mr. Schnur said. "Five years later, very little of the things they were promised ever happened. That's because special interests derailed that agenda."
And Trey Walker, Mr. McCain's national field director, said Republicans in South Carolina are aligning themselves with the two leading candidates based on the endorsements of the state's "old guard" politicians for Mr. Bush and a younger generation of politicians, like Rep. Lindsey Graham, who support Mr. McCain.
"It really doesn't have anything to do with the ideological spectrum," Mr. Walker said. "We are the insurgents. South Carolina has a little bit of rebellion in it."
But Mr. Reed noted that Mr. McCain was the only one of the six Republican presidential candidates who didn't speak to an October Christian Coalition meeting in Washington. And he said coalition leader Pat Robertson has a "very strong" organization in South Carolina.
"Senator McCain … has really not made an effort at all to reach out to that constituency. It's remarkable," Mr. Reed said. "In the end, he still hits a brick wall because his candidacy is based on changing the rules of politics, rather than addressing the issues of the heart and soul."


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