- The Washington Times - Monday, July 18, 2011

Republican presidential contenders may be feeling nostalgic for the days when a candidate could focus on just one pledge: the oath of office.

With pledges spreading like kudzu on the campaign trail, candidates this year are being asked — in some cases, pressured to profess their fealty to a whole host of positions: supporting marriage, opposing taxes, reducing the deficit, fighting abortion and gay rights and more.

And these aren’t just bland statements of support for broad ideals.

There’s a 14-point “marriage vow,” a three-pronged “cut, cap and balance” declaration on the national debt, a four-point “pro-life leadership presidential pledge” and a deficit-reduction promise tied to the “Lean Six Sigma” method of reducing wasteful spending.

The pledges, many advanced by right-leaning interest groups, are roiling the race, boxing candidates in to positions that could hurt them in the general election, and pushing contenders to make promises they might come to regret if ever seated in the Oval Office.

Some candidates welcome the pledges as an opportunity to strengthen their support among various voting blocs and to draw distinctions between themselves and their competition. But others are resisting pressure to adopt pledges that attempt to put words in their mouths.

Interest groups, for their part, use the pledges to get their names in the news, and to flex some muscle by threatening to withhold support unless candidates sign on and stay true.

There are signs that some candidates have had enough.

“I don’t know why anybody puts up with it,” said Republican strategist Rich Galen. “You just don’t know all the ramifications of everything that is put before you.”

It’s a sentiment that’s apparently shared by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. He’s made a pledge not to pledge.

“I don’t sign pledges other than the Pledge of Allegiance and a pledge to my wife,” Mr. Huntsman said recently.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who’s making a big play for the caucus votes of social conservatives in leadoff Iowa, is at the other end of the spectrum. She’s taken a shine to pledges on marriage, abortion, taxes and other issues, and has laid into her competition for holding back at times. On Monday, she signed the “cut, cap and balance” pledge during a campaign stop in South Carolina.

It was a reversal for Mrs. Bachmann, who had said she wouldn’t back it because it didn’t go far enough. The Minnesota lawmaker said she would include her own addendum to the pledge repealing the sweeping health care law.

True economic reform depends on it, she said. “I have the resolve and titanium spine to do just that,” Mrs. Bachmann said.

When former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who’s less invested in Iowa, refused to adopt the Susan B. Anthony List’s anti-abortion pledge, Mrs. Bachmann’s campaign called it a “distressing” move and said it raised questions about his “leadership and commitment to ending the practice of abortion.”

As for the “marriage vow” advanced by The Family Leader, a conservative Iowa group, Mr. Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were among a number of candidates who balked.

Mr. Pawlenty, who’s staking his candidacy on doing well in Iowa, stepped away ever so gingerly, saying he “respectfully” declined to sign.

“I prefer to choose my own words,” he added.

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