Sen. John McCain said Wednesday that he would not rule out naming a pro-choice vice-presidential nominee, saying the abortion issue amounts to "a disagreement" and that he thinks conservatives would accept former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who is pro-choice, as a potential running mate.
"I think that the pro-life position is one of the important aspects or fundamentals of the Republican Party," Mr. McCain told the Weekly Standard in an interview published on the magazine's Web site Wednesday afternoon. "And I also feel that - and I'm not trying to equivocate here - that Americans want us to work together. You know, Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don't think that that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out."
But social-conservative leaders say a pro-choice nominee would cripple Mr. McCain politically with the Republican Party base.
"I think McCain has to have a running mate that clearly connects with social conservatives in the party," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "That is where he is lacking. So if he picks a pro-choice running mate, I don't see how he can win this race."
Asked whether social and religious conservatives would walk away from Mr. McCain if he picks Mr. Ridge or some other pro-choice running mate, Mr. Perkins said, "I'm not going to say people will stay home, but there is a core of voters whose level of enthusiasm influences people further from the core.
"So if McCain picks a pro-choice running mate, the strength of turnout on Election Day is not going to be there for him," Mr. Perkins said.
The McCain interview is a reversal from April, when the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that Mr. Ridge wouldn't be ruled out but that "it would be difficult" to choose him because of his abortion stance. The change in tone is bound to boost speculation that Mr. McCain will name the former Pennsylvania governor as his running mate.
Mr. McCain further stoked the rumor mill by campaigning with Mr. Ridge in Pennsylvania this week.
The senator from Arizona told the Weekly Standard that Mr. Ridge would be more acceptable than other pro-choice possibilities such as New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
"I think it's a fundamental tenet of our party to be pro-life but that does not mean we exclude people from our party that are pro-choice. We just have a - albeit strong - but just it's a disagreement. And I think Ridge is a great example of that. Far more so than Bloomberg, because Bloomberg is pro-gay rights, pro, you know, a number of other issues."
On ABC's "This Week" program on Aug. 3, Mr. Ridge reaffirmed his pro-choice stance.
"I've had that point of view before I got into politics, I had it when I was in politics, and I preserve that point of view now," he said.
The Democrats have a Web site devoted to poking holes in various possible running mates for Mr. McCain. On their Tom Ridge page, they point to his efforts to raise the gas tax in Pennsylvania and criticized his leadership at the helm of the Homeland Security Department.
Mr. Ridge was named to head the new White House Office of Homeland Security a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. When President Bush reversed himself and embraced a Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department a year later, Mr. Ridge was confirmed as the first secretary.
But naming Mr. Ridge also could raise the thorny issue of immigration, because by some measures, immigration enforcement dropped under Mr. Ridge's tenure, only to pick up when his successor, Michael Chertoff, took office.
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